Book Review: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Origin: Browsing goodreads
Genre: Fiction, Romance
“The unsatisfying thing about practicing restraint was that nobody knew you were practicing it.”
Summary: 20-something Kate Battista is somewhat of a loner. She lives with and mostly takes care of her scientist father and younger sister, Bunny. Dr. Battista is rather peculiar and his daughters have come to live around his quirks. From the way the house is cleaned, to the way dinner is served, there is a systematic method developed by their father to complete all tasks.
Kate works as a daycare teacher’s aid at a well-to-do school. She does the same thing most days and doesn’t have many friends. She is quite unpleasant and forward in her manners, and seemingly unaware of her directedness, as she’s surprised when the headmistress pulls her aside and lectures her about her demeanor toward the kid’s parents. She becomes afraid that her job is in jeopardy, so she does her best to pep up at school. Bunny is more social than her sister. She attracts people with her looks and is wrapped up in vanity, thriving off of the attention she gets from boys. Her father gushes about her, and seemingly favors her with his pet-names and inclination to see past her flaws and suspicious behaviors.
One day, their eccentric father starts acting even more bizarre than usual, asking Kate to drop by his lab to visit him during the day, and often working his Russian research partner of three years, Pyotr, into the conversation. After a couple of coincidental run-ins between Kate and Pyotr outside of the lab, we learn that Pyotr is in danger of being deported as his visa is set to expire. This would devastate Dr. Battista’s research, which he claims he is on the brink of making gainful discoveries. Dr. Battista comes up with a grandiose plan to keep his research assistant in the country, and as always, he’s relying on Kate to help him.
About 50 pages into this book, admittedly, I was not feeling it! Since it’s a shorter story, by that time I felt too invested in it to let it go. By the time I finished the story, though, I was glad I saw it through.
I think the hardest part of dealing with this story was figuring Kate out. Since she is the main character, it was difficult to deal with her attitude at first. She was not nice at all, and the only time she showed remote kindness was when she saw the co-worker that she had a crush on. Even then, it was forced and awkward. Eventually, I came to see Kate differently. Getting to know her, I understood that she carried the heavy burden of caring for her nuisance of a father and trying to keep her sister from breeding into a spoiled brat (which may have been too late). With time, and with the circumstances, her personality starts to unfold as you listen to her story. I feel she could have been a little more well-developed. I didn’t connect with her or want to know more about her until the story was almost over.
One of my favorite parts about this book is Pyotr. I enjoy watching an author’s take on a foreigner’s language and customs. It’s fun to watch different cultures interact, and reminds me of my own experiences meeting and getting to know people from other countries whose first language isn’t English. It’s enlightening and funny, and often times communication is exchanged in a fundamental way which gives a certain rawness to the conversation, which helps me to see things in a different way.
It’s difficult to say too much without giving away the story line. This story is very surface level, in my opinion, which makes for an easy read. It’s the first book I’ve read by Anne Tyler, and apparently this wasn’t her best work. I look forward to sampling her other writing, but probably wouldn’t recommend Vinegar Girl to someone who is looking for a connection to their reading.