Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler
There are some authors I cannot resist when browsing through a bookshop, or online. Anne Tyler is one of them. So when I saw Vinegar Girl, her last published (2016), I scooped it up and it sat on the shelf until I was ready for Anne Tyler. What I mean is an Anne Tyler novel needs to be read once started, not really good for fits and starts, and you have to be emotionally ready for it, because invariably you are called upon to dig deep, if you are that kind of reader. Vinegar Girl is vintage Tyler. Set in Baltimore (of course) it is the story of a young woman who struggles with finding her life’s purpose. She is entangled, to say the least, with her widower, research scientist father and her younger sister who is beautiful, superficial and a true teenager in every way. Kate, the main character is smart, honest, direct, truthful (maybe too much of the last two attributes) and doesn’t sugar coat. She is a pre-school teacher, pretty much by default, and the children love her—but their parents and the administrator—not so much. The main thread of the story focuses on her father’s “need” to keep his brilliant research assistant in the U.S. longer. Needless to say there are several outlandish occurrences, some so funny, you laugh out loud, yet all speaking to the human condition: love, loneliness, grief, purpose, success, joy and family. The story is peppered with landladies, aunts, uncles, and neighbors all in true Anne Tyler style. My cousin says that when he writes his novel about his family, he is going to title it, “Assorted Nuts.” I think Anne Tyler has that ground pretty well covered here.
Review by Sandra Novick