French Braid by Anne Tyler (Literary Fiction)

Writing: 4.5/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 3/5

A classic Anne Tyler novel following the lives of a Baltimore family through generations from 1959 to the present (including the Covid lockdown). Blending family dynamics with individual personalities in the context of the times, it is a study in the ways that families simultaneously work and don’t work.

Naturally well-written (Pulitzer prize winning author!) with a set of characters drawn in depth and with a high degree of verisimilitude. The characters were not always likable — in fact, I was struck by how few of these people I would actually enjoy spending time with. Not that there was anything terrible about them, but their very realness reminded me of the difference between live people with their selfishness, tiny cruelties, and obliviousness to the interests of others, and my favorite book characters who seem to always have their best foot forward even when making mistakes. This may be more of a commentary on why I don’t have more friends than anything else!

Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on March 22nd, 2022.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (Literary Fiction)

Writing: 5/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 4.5/5

Vinegar Girl is ostensibly a retelling of Shakespeare’s classic Taming of the Shrew, but really it is a recasting of the story — and one which makes you wonder if it isn’t what Shakespeare meant in the first place (couched in terms of the culture of the times).

29-year old Kate Battista is a blunt preschool teacher assistant with little interest in the social niceties. She’s been caring for her father (a man devoted to his research in autoimmunity and supposedly on the verge of a breakthrough) and her younger sister Bunny (the epitome of the eyelash batting, pouting, childish demeanor that’s apparently quite “alluring to adolescent boys”) since her mother’s death fifteen years earlier. When her father hatches a plan to marry her off to his assistant — a brilliant Russian whose visa is about to expire — she is appalled. And yet, at times she is almost drawn to his equally blunt and direct manner and his alien perception of American culture and conventions.

Great dialog, hysterical at times, fascinating social commentary, and impossible to put down (at only 237 pages I gobbled it up in an afternoon). The speech at the end, where Kate defends her husband against her sister’s accusations is worthy of the bard himself. The writing quality is not surprising — Tyler has been nominated for the Pulitzer three times and won once.

Loved this book and really did not expect to (I’m not a fan of rewrites in general).