Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taming a Shrew: Vinegar Girl a novel by Anne Tyler

In 2012, Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, launched the Shakespeare Project to publish the works of Shakespeare as retold by acclaimed and best-selling contemporary authors. Vinegar Girl is Anne Tyler’s retelling of the comedy, Taming of the Shrew.

Kate Battista is a young woman, efficient in her role as head of the domestic household in maintaining a stable environment for her eccentric medical researcher father and beautiful but flighty younger sister. Having assumed the role at the early death of her reality challenged mother, Kate has constructed a headstrong and jaundiced personality that keeps all people outside of her little family at bay. Anne Tyler uses Kate as the foundation of a beautifully structured novel that captures the essence of Shakespeare’s play.

A dilemma caused by Pyotr, foreign research assistant to Dr. Battista with an expiring US work visa, causes Kate to react in word, deed, and self-evaluation with an increase in shrewishness. Anne Tyler’s wonderfully written story increases the tension of us readers who want to love Kate but, like other characters in the novel, are put off by her threatening demeanor.

Readers need no artificial incentive to follow the story and take a keen interest in the characters. However, a lovely coups d’oeil opens the reader to a surprising understanding of Kate’s self- concept and the relationships she has with her extended family and Pyotr.

This is one of the best novels I have read in the past year. It is a perfect update of Shakespeare’s work in a contemporary context and structure.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Embedded Life Review: I Am No One a novel by Patrick Flanery

I Am No One, the first novel by Patrick Flanery, is a story of an intelligent man writing a life review in our Western culture dominated by hyper-vigilant surveillance. Jeremy’s review is triggered by evidence he receives of his behavior being tracked by unknown observers who have special access to his personal records. Jeremy's personality characteristics of low key self-aggrandizement, fear of social commitment, passive aggression, chronic depression, and paranoia interact with the paper records of his life that are delivered anonymously to the lobby of his apartment building in New York City. The mundane details of Jeremy’s life become more interesting to him as he writes his autobiography for an unknown audience in the future.

Mr. Flanery writes in a style that includes lengthy sentences composed of simple and direct phrases that flow so that the reader is never lost due to wandering attention. This style fits the narrator’s personality well as he writes the details of his rather mundane personal history.

Jeremy uses an interesting metaphor in his hand-written narrative that involves two circles, a small one inside the circumference of the other. The small circle contains information that Jeremy chooses to describe and understand himself. The larger circle has information about himself selected from sources over which he has no control, and constitute an invasion of privacy via external surveillance. It is interesting that in our age of devaluation of information because of the relatively effortless availability of it, Jeremy’s life review becomes more insightful and his inner circle grows because of being confronted by the unsolicited personal records.

I enjoyed reading this novel by Patrick Flanery and reconsidering the limitations of a restricted life review. In order to look back on personal life history with ego integrity vs despair, a broader context of information gathered for a variety of purposes can show that we play an integral role in the lives of others whether or not we include the include the information in our inner circle of self-awareness. To paraphrase Hemingway, we spend our entire lives trying to learn and understand just a few basic truths that are readily available in our wider surrounding social circle. To continue with Hemingway's thoughts, never confuse movement with action can be extended to the idea of never confusing restricted self-awareness with total social awareness.