“Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.”

vinegar girl.jpgBooks on Tap read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler at Champion Brewery on September 5. Anne Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was a delightful summer read in which everyone made it out happy (or happyish) ever after. Many participants had read Tyler’s other novels but only a few had read or seen the original play. As was pointed out, marriages don’t fare well in Shakespeare. This particular work seems ripe for adaptation because the original reads as cruel and misogynistic to the modern audience. 

In Tyler’s playful, broadly funny version, Kate is in her late 20s and  lives at home with her eccentric scientist father and 15 year old sister. Having dropped out of college after insulting a professor, she seems stuck. She is wildly out of sync with the ethos of the pre-school where she works, she follows her father’s bizarre efficeniety regime at home and is at odds with her outgoing sister. Her life is shaken up when her father strongly suggests she marry his Russian lab assistant Pytor, who is in danger of being deported when his visa runs out later in the year. 

Against her inclination, she begins to see the benefit in teaming up with Pytor. It’s not a fully emancipated stance, because she’s still viewing the marriage as a transaction and a fairly patriarchal one at that. However, she acknowledges that compromises are necessary in a relationship and that if she gives Pytor room to express all of his feelings (loneliness, joy, grief, curiosity) they can share the emotional work.

What we most enjoyed in this work was the call back to other adaptations (“Kiss me, Katya”), the comedy and the gentle, sympathetic touch Tyler took with all her characters. While it may not be a classic in it’s own right, it did spark some of us to check out her other novels.

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Reviews from The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, The New York Times and NPR.

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“It was easier to lie when you believed the lie.”

boyerasedBooks on Tap read Boy Erased by Garrard Conley at Champion Brewery on June 6, a memoir of Conley’s time in the Love in Action gay conversion therapy center after his first year of college. Conley describes being raised in a religious bubble with a larger-than-life father who is leading his own church when Conley is outed by his rapist. 

We acknowledged that we were probably not Conley’s intended audience but we were taken by the painful choice he lays out between being true to his religion and family expectations or actually being himself. Conley skips between time periods, which we found confusing and we would have liked more explanation of the institute he was enrolled in and an epilogue to bridge the end of the book with his much different current life. We were most taken by the author’s relationship to his parents. His mother genuinely likes him while his father seems afraid that he’ll fall off the right path. Conely is sympathetic to the ways in which his grandfather’s alcoholism and abuse color his own father’s view on life and parenthood. In fact, it was the realization that he didn’t hate his father that helped Conley leave Love in Action with his mother’s support. 

We would recommend this memoir to teens and parents of teens who are coming out. Below is a list of books that contained similarities. 

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Related Titles:
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Educated by Tara Westover 
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak 
Celebrating the Third Place 

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“Because a place can do many things against you, and if it’s your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it.”

bookofunknownamericansBooks on Tap read The Book of Unknown Americans  by Cristina Henriquez at Champion Brewery on May 2. The novel is set in an apartment building in Delaware owned and occupied by Latinx migrants. It frequently switches narrators but the story focuses on the Riveras, a family that has moved to America to access school services for their teen daughter Mirabel who has suffered a brain injury, and the Toros, Panamanians who are now American citizens. Teenage Mayor Toro is drawn to Mirabel and Celia Rivera helps newly arrived Alma Rivera navigate life in small town Delaware. The teen protagonists and straightforward prose would appeal to teen readers. Henriquez is also a short story writer and the interstitial chapters narrated by secondary characters who live in the building read like short stories. The entire story was originally written from Mayor’s point of view and he and Alma really carry the novel.

The book is set during the global economic crisis of 2008 and written around 2012. We thought that the Riveras would have a harder time getting visas from Mexico today then they would have then. The neighbors all share their compelling reasons for migrating and we think they would be in even more danger now. While we were surprised that the characters migrated to Delaware, Henriquez does a good job of explaining why and how they landed there. We compared it to our local economy that visibly employs migrants in such businesses as food service, construction, wine and orchard agriculture.

The secondary neighbor’s chapters painted a complex picture of the Latinx community, highlighting commonalities and differences, brought to life by busybody neighbor Quisqueya. However, we would have liked to learn more about food culture and had more distinction in speech among the migrants and even more untranslated Spanish. The only character not to get his own chapter was Garrett, the white teenager who harasses the Riveras and is instrumental to the climax. We inferred that his home life was terrible but he remains as remote to us as he was to Alma.

The climax is an unexpected but not unearned surprise. The Riveras have already survived the tragedy of Mirabel’s accident and her father’s unemployment. This last disaster makes Alma’s decision to return to Mexico inevitable but turns the focus from migration to a universal reflection on guilt and forgiveness.

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