Note : I received this ARC from the publishers via the Reading Room (https://www.thereadingroom.com/) giveaway program. Thank you Penguin Random House!
Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies
Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.
Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.
When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?
Well, I am only vaguely familiar with Taming of the Shrew, so though I am not in a position to compare or debate upon the finer points of distinction between both the versions, I did get the sense that this is probably more of a “watered down” version of the original. And maybe that it isn’t such a bad thing, given all the flak the original has got for being misogynistic. I think Anne Tyler did a fine job adapting it to the present day. To be honest, I think somewhere between all the deluge of bad-ass female leads from fantasy, paranormal and dystopian books that has found its way to my Read and To Be Read pile, it just felt nice to sit down and read about someone who isn’t cursed, doesn’t have super-powers, or isn’t trying to save the world.
Kate was probably one of the most relatable female characters I have come across in my recent few months of reading. See her from afar, and she is probably not the most “likeable” person in the sense that she doesn’t make any extra effort to befriend people. Some people are just naturally charming, effortless in complementing others and making them feel good. Kate is none of it, and in a touching moment of self-reflection, she realizes she doesn’t have a single close friend left, all of them having moved on with their lives, with jobs, marriage and kids. Kate, who dropped out of college in her final year, has spent nearly a decade as a teaching assistant in kindergarten. Her daily routine is packing meat-mash lunches for her dad and sister, watching over four-year olds and gardening. When her father starts cajoling her to get married to his lab assistant Pyotr, she is hurt that he is as usual placing his work and his research over Kate’s desires. But when Kate does agree to play along, she is faced with some interesting dilemmas and questions. Just what does she exactly want in her life? Or what kind of a life does she want to lead? With or without someone? And will that someone just like her for who she is? Just what does it mean to change or compromise in a marriage?
The book is primarily about four characters – Kate, her dad, her sister Bunny and Pyotr. Put them all together and it is a whole lot of fun watching their dynamics change as the story proceeds. The Kate and Pyotr interactions were really sweet, and I loved how some of the things Kate found irritating about Pyotr, (such as him not being in sync with all the English idioms and slangs) was what she found cute and charming about him later on. So it is actually quite fitting that the book derives its title from one of these conversations. Speaking of conversations, my favorite was probably one between Kate and her dad. I think it came at a point when it was much needed for Kate to hear from someone – someone who is family – that she is not indispensable. And then there is Bunny – She is all chirpy and cool with Pyotr until she comes to know he and Kate are going to get married. She is further irritable when she realizes Kate is slowly getting “used” to the idea of getting married to him. All this leads to a final heated argument between Bunny and Kate in the end. Without giving away much, let’s just say that I personally didn’t find the dialogues during the confrontation that compelling or relevant to what was being addressed. I think there could have been a better buildup leading to this scene throughout the book. I really would have liked more of the “real Bunny” moments where she isn’t being her put-on “I-want-attention” self. We did get a hint from Kate about how she felt closer to her sister when she was younger. It would have been nice to see a bit of that later on in the book. I mean, Bunny clearly struggled with mixed feeling about the Kate-Pyotr impending wedding, and an honest conversation (even if it is an awkward one) between the sisters before the wedding would have probably made some of the later events work better for me.
Nonetheless, I really liked the book and would definitely check out more titles from the Hogarth Shakespeare Project.