This post on Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is going to be a little lame, since the novel is a rewritten, modern version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew which I have never read (but have SparkNoted!). I will read Shakespeare’s play as soon as I can and perhaps come back to Vinegar Girl and talk about it more with its originator, but for now, if you’ve stuck around, here are my thoughts on Vinegar Girl as its own novel.
Lara Vapnyar’s The Scent of Pine is an indulgent novel, with the past and present intermingling in beautiful and haunting ways; lust and love and desire bringing insecurities and reality into the light. And I love that it primarily takes place in a cabin in the woods in Maine. There’s something enchanting and deep about the Maine woods that novelists and writers and general people find alluring; I won’t deny it, the woods of The Pine Tree State are quite magical. Anyway, moving on to the book.
Lena and Ben meet at an academic conference and after spending a night together, Lena decides to accompany Ben on an overnight trip to his cabin in Maine. On the drive there from Saratoga Springs, and then back to their ultimate departure in Boston on the other end of the trip, we learn about secrets they’ve kept, personal issues they’ve stifled, and how giving in to desire can offer a messy, short-term solution to people feeling lost.
I enjoyed the narrative of The Scent of Pine, and how believable the course of events seemed, thanks to Lara Vapnyar’s writing style. The chances of two people meeting at a conference with hundreds of people, and then both of them traveling across state lines together to spend the night willingly in a cabin in the woods of Maine, sounds more like the beginning of a Stephen King novel than a whirlwind, complicated romance story, but Lara Vapnyar made it seem deliciously believable.
We travel back to Lena’s days as a counselor at a summer camp in Russia as she tells Ben about the men – soldiers – she dated during those summers who mysteriously disappeared. Ben tells Lena about the history of the cabin and his father, and intermittently, they talk about their significant others and in Lena’s case, children. Desire, fulfillment, and intimacy meld the past with the present and the future is what we catch a glimpse of at the end when Lara Vapnyar slams on the brakes of the pleasant and indulgent train ride and takes our breath away for a few seconds, before we breathe a sigh of relief or content dissatisfaction – that’s your call.
What was so difficult about admitting that you weren’t happy? Why did people think they needed to come up with all these complicated explanations, excuses, justifications? Or perhaps they just didn’t want to admit it to themselves?
I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hope you have the same experience. The innocence and maturity of the story work together to describe the intricacies of life, love, and what it means to be human, and how seclusion can both make the world seem very small and quite large at the same time.
Lena was overcome with the strange feeling that she experienced only a couple of times after that. She didn’t know what to call it. Anticipation of happiness? No, it had to be stronger than that. Certainty of happiness. Inevitability of happiness.
Tom McCarthy wrote an insightful introduction to Deborah Levy’s novel, Swimming Home, in 2011. In it he says that Levy’s “fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than about the interzone (to borrow Burrough’s term) it set up in which desire and speculation, fantasy and symbols circulated.”
Well, here we are. The last month of the year, and Goodreads won’t stop pestering me about finishing my reading goal that I barely remember setting earlier in 2016. Because of this pestering (I use this word adoringly), and because I didn’t restrain myself in the library, this month I am setting out to read four books (listed below in no particular order).
The first two are modern re-tellings of classic literature. The first you have probably heard of: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I have high expectations for this take on Pride And Prejudice, and look forward to exploring other “Austen Project” novels later on. The second modern re-telling is Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. I have been plugging The Librarian Is In Podcast quite a lot recently, yet here I go again. I heard of this novel on the podcast, which is a take on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which I’m avoiding reading in full/feeling badly about not reading in full before Anne Tyler’s version. Lambast me, if you will.
Third, a novel by Deborah Levy: Swimming Home. I initially wanted to read Hot Milk which was published this year, but it was not available in the library so I chose another one of her novels. Finally, I chose The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar, a novel about love, secrets, unhappiness, and a trip to Maine. This was on a featured display in the library, and I’m glad I picked it up.
So here is my final Reading Challenge for 2016. What are you reading, and what do you have planned for saying goodbye to this tumultuous year and hello to a new one? Thank you always for visiting and reading my blog; happy holidays!
After losing my mind over What They Do In The Dark, I am happy to say that After Dark did not lead me doubting myself as a reader, but reinforced my love for reading. This is the first Haruki Murakami novel I have read, and it certainly won’t be my last. I can’t believe the beauty I’ve been missing.
So the lady wasn’t a real person at all. The surprise of this suited Pauline. Maybe most people weren’t real, just pretending to be. It helped when you knew that, that they might be ghosts, like you. Unless that meant the people you only had a chance of meeting as ghosts, like Joanne, were less likely to be ghosts themselves.
I finished reading What They Do in the Dark around the time the Supermoon arrived, and I’m saying this because I believe Amanda Coe’s novel contributed to the nightmares I had during that week. The novel is not horrifying in terms of the supernatural or serial murders (both themes of my nightmares), but its fragmented story and time lines lead us to an unnerving event that you may miss if you blink (spoilers ahead).