When The Taming of the Shrew metamorphosed into 10 Things I Hate About You, you could find several distinct departures from Shakespeare’s version. The biggest thing I noticed was that the shrew wasn’t tamed, she was humanized: it didn’t take spousal abuse to get to her heart, it took someone who actually understood a little of what she was going through. That, and the boys the girls end up with in the later version aren’t men: they are age appropriate. (Hallelujah!)
I find it fascinating how we change Shakespeare to fit our reality, like having Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet orate “To be or not to be” in a movie store (while wearing a blazer and a dumb hat), or to have rival gangs menacingly snapping their fingers at each other down a New York street. (Note to self: finally watch West Side Story.)
It seems to me that a massive number of adaptations have been done of Romeo and Juliet, my least favorite play – after all, the shining climax of the piece ends in teen suicide (or pre-teen, in the case of Juliet) and a pious chorus of people repenting for their sins. The bittersweet ending is great, sure, but do people have to die?
This is the crux of the book Julie and Romeo, of the two owners of competing flower shops whose families have been feuding for decades. They find themselves at a seminar for failing businesses and, finding the event demoralizing and boring, go for a meal and a long walk. They discover that neither of them are wholly covered in scales or boils oozing chartreuse-colored pus, and they dig it.
Romeo and Julie are both in their sixties and know that the feud must have been started by their parents – and if you’ve already seen the signs, you’ll be thinking that a parent on each side was having an affair, you’d be right, because that’s what they do in these stories. And, of course, because there are three generations involved, each of them has a kid now in their 30s who had a thing for each other when they were teenagers. These books love trifectas.
What ends up happening is that Julie’s ex-husband and Romeo get in this huge fight (to mirror the play), people get riled up, roses get salted (literally – it’s a vicious thing to do), and then everyone ends up in the same house and the truth comes out. Blam-o. Problem solved – and nicely orchestrated by the women of the two families.
This seems odd to me, as death seems to define the characters of the original play: love-struck idiots who kill themselves. I think it’s partially that we now have a hard time killing off characters in such a way: we hate to see the good guys struck down, to see love vanquished. There’s a reason why the couple in The Notebook die at the end of their lives, not in the middle, as could very easily have happened. (Think of how much sadder that story would be with this alternate ending. People would go mental.) But it’s also that Julie and Romeo were older, wiser, and not about to put up with a bunch of crap. Period.
That’s the sort of love story I want to read. I don’t want the protagonists to be bubble-headed ninnies who listen to nothing but bad advice; I want them to be awake, cogent, and willing to make the most of their lives. While this book was nothing but what I expected and an easy one to coast through, I’ll likely read it again. Love – and reason! – conquer all.
I’ll finish with one of the best bits of the story, when Julie is thinking about the long walk she’s taken with Romeo, basking in the afterglow of a perfect experience:
I had walked all the way from Boston to Somerville. Tonight I felt like I could walk past my house and keep heading west. I could walk to Rochester, to Cleveland, to Fort Wayne, Indiana. I could walk all the way to Iowa and through Nebraska, over the Rockies until I got to Oregon, and even then I wouldn’t stop if I didn’t want to. I could go into the ocean, I could swim. I was that sure of myself tonight. I could go on forever (65).
First love: when you could go on forever.
I’d love to hear from you – as many or as few as you may be – about the best book you’ve read recently. Or feel free to speculate the number of feet in your ‘To Read’ stack of books. (Mine? 42.)