Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

How did Kate Battista reach this point in her life?  She doesn't know exactly what she thought her life would be, but probably not this.  Kate is twenty-nine.  She dropped out of college and now serves as her father's housekeeper and raises her teenage sister, Bunny.  Dr. Battista is the original absent-minded professor, full of ideas about his research but uninterested in the house and raising the two daughters his wife left him when she died.  His contribution to the household is a series of processes to make the house run efficiently.  No time or energy to cook?  It doesn't matter as once a week a mash of meat and vegetables is prepared and then every dinner is mash.

Kate has fallen into a stopgap job that somehow has lasted for years.  She is an assistant at a preschool, where the children love her but the parents and administration are much less entranced with her honest, blunt truthfulness.  No sugarcoating truths about behaviors for Kate.  If a child asks who the best artist in the room is, Kate will tell him, not worrying about egos but feeling that the best artist is just a fact, not something to get a personality crushed over.  She has some feelings for the only male on staff, a sensitive man who works in the two year old room, but has no idea if he has any feelings for her.

Then Dr. Battista has his brainstorm.  His research is at a critical juncture.  The university has grown tired of waiting for a breakthrough and his labs have been moved further and further away from the main areas.  His only salvation is his assistant, Pyotr, a brilliant man who came over three years ago to work with him.  They are about to get to the next level but Pyotr's visa is also about to run out.  Immigration will insist on him returning to Europe.  What to do?

It's obvious to Dr. Battista.  Kate can marry Pyotr and then he can stay and work on the research as always.  Pyotr, a younger version of Battista's singlemindedness, seems to be fine with the idea and intrigued by Kate.  Kate is appalled and can't believe her father would marry her off like livestock.  What will become of the Battista family and Pyotr?

Anne Tyler is one of the masters of American literature still working today.  She has received the Pultizer Prize and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  She has written twenty-one novels, each probing the intricatcies of characters the average person may not wonder about, but Tyler reveals the truth that each of us is an interesting individual with hopes and desires of our own.  This retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew is a delightful addition to her work and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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