Sunny Solomon Book Review

Book Review: Shrewd observers will see the roots of ‘Vinegar Girl’

Sunny Solomon Book Review“Vinegar Girl” by Anne Tyler is a classic story of a father-daughter conflict.

The father, chemist Louis Battista, wants his headstrong and unmarried daughter Kate to marry his research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, whose work visa is soon to expire.

Kate is a college dropout. Presently working as a teacher at a local preschool, she has little interest or patience for her young students. She is happiest in her garden, preferring flowers and vegetables to the opposite sex. She has a dominating personality and salty tongue not often admired by men.

Louis is a single father who depends on Kate to manage his home, his teenage daughter, Bunny, and, in general, his life. A brilliant scientist, he is working on a significant research project that requires most of his time.

Kate first meets Pyotr when she brings her father’s lunch (a sandwich like she makes every night) to him at his lab. Dr. Battista uncharacteristically has forgotten to take the sandwich from the kitchen counter. It is the first of his many subterfuges to bring Kate and Pyotr together.

‘A bunch of dead cells’

Initially, neither is aware of Louis’ machinations. Pyotr is as devoted to the research work as Louis and has little time for dating. But he first looks at Kate “admiringly.” Kate recognizes the look: “men often wore” when they first saw her. She tosses it off as a result of “a bunch of dead cells.”

Pyotr goes out of his way to get to know Kate after intriguing remarks from Dr. Battista. Kate, keenly aware that she is adrift without any life direction, begins to seriously consider her father’s plan of marrying Pyotr. In addition to the time taken up with her teaching and gardening, Kate starts to resent her sister Bunny’s blooming teen hormones. Kate imagines that a fake, but legal, marriage to Pyotr may be an escape route from her role as big sister/mother.

Pyotr appears to find much of Kate’s language humorous and certainly not off-putting. His perseverance and Kate’s pragmatism, with lots of riotous romps of family mishaps, lab disasters and emotional revelations, finally result in matrimony.

If some of this story sounds familiar, think of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Hogarth Shakespeare has asked some prestigious writers to take their turn on a work by the Bard. Tyler has kept her cast of characters to a minimum, but the rest is pure magic and very funny.

Louis Battista is Shakespeare’s Baptista, Katherina’s (Kate’s) father; Pyotr is Petruchio, the foreigner Baptista wants Katherina to marry; and Bunny is Bianca, Katherina’s ever-popular younger sister. Tyler’s story stands on its own, but I’ll bet more than a few folks who read it will find their way back to Shakespeare.

Sunny Solomon is a freelance writer and head of the Clayton Book Club. Visit her website at for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’