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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 12, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is a moment in "Bitter in the Mouth" when the main character likens the facts of her life to cards. She could spread them out on a table in orderly fashion: "My name is Linda Hammerick. I grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. My parents were Thomas and DeAnn. My best friend was named Kelly." Or the same cards could get thrown down and land on each other creating "distorting overlaps (...): I grew up in (Thomas and Kelly). My parents were (valedictorian and baton twirler). My best friend was named (Harper)."

Author Monique Truong structures the story in such a way that it evokes the sense of misplacement and misconstruction that pervades Linda's view of her life as distorting overlaps. Truong divides her novel in two parts. In the first part, Linda covers mostly her childhood--her relationships with her parents, her great-uncle Harper and with Kelly, her best friend. She also describes her first crush, her loss of innocence and the disappointment every child comes to feel when she discovers that the adults in her life are full of flaws and warts. To the reader, Linda Hamerick is an all American girl. Nothing in the minutiae of Linda's narrative foreshadows the surprise Truong drops on the readers at the closing of the first part of her novel. It is then that readers must dismiss any assumptions they might have made about the main character and read on the second part of the book through a different lens.

I enjoy reading both commercial and literary works. "Bitter in the Mouth" is definitely a literary effort. Truong experiments with structure and voice. Linda's revelations of her life and family are made in bits and pieces and in a nonlinear manner. As I encountered them, I felt like I was shuffling pieces of a puzzle. Linda's special condition and her thoughts on childhood legends, however, were more of a distraction to me than contributions to her story. The more I read about them, the more I felt like I wanted to strip the storyline to its bare bones: This book is about (1) Linda's relationship (or lack of it) with her mother, (2) Harper's secret life, (3) Linda's friendship with Kelly and (4) DeAnn and Thomas's marriage

In the end, it was hard to care for Linda. I found her voice too detached. By the time the resolution of the story approaches, her narration becomes clinical and monotonous. There are some gems in "Bitter in the Mouth," however--such as the morning of Thomas's funeral when DeAnn walks into the room with her dress unzipped--, where Truong proves she has an eye for capturing beauty and meaning in what could have been banal details. Reading "Bitter in the Mouth" requires patience and a bit of an open mind toward Truong's choices in story structure and narrative style. Those who like literary experimentation will appreciate this novel.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Some writers have very special gifts, and when they write, their words not only pierce the heart but also melt it. I found this incredibly beautiful novel enchanting from its very first sentences.

I will not spoil this book for future readers. However, if you have ever felt or been different, worked with people who were different, then this rare novel is a `must read.' It is written with unusual sensitivity and insight. It is filled with music and color, as well as the importance of love, understanding and acceptance.

The prose is exquisite. Truong's writing demonstrates that special union that only a few writers possess [in my opinion]. This is Linda and her great-uncle Harper's story, as well as how people may find their soul mates within a family. Actually, it is much more than this. Before I knew it, I was enmeshed in their lives. I felt every hurt, as well as any triumph.

If one reads carefully, and I am a most deliberate reader, one will find that most delicate thread that laces people, family and friends together. There is a special thread for it holds mysteries, as well as firms those essential bonds we all form.

`We both liked music because it was a river where we stripped down, jumped in, and flailed our arms around each other. It was 1975 then, and the water everywhere around us was glittery with disco lights. My great-uncle Harper and I though, danced to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino. We twisted, mashed- potatoed, and winked at each other when we opened our eyes. My great-uncle Harper was my first love. I was seven years old. In his company, I laughed out loud.' This passage is on the very first page. It said to me, `Come on in. Do join us. You're in for a treat!' I joined Linda and her truly great-uncle Harper and found myself delightfully lost in this book.

Linda has a condition known as synesthesia. Some words produce certain tastes in Linda's mouth. I had no idea that this condition existed, but allow me to share that Linda is in extremely good company
As I've stated earlier, I really don't want to give anything away. I think that readers should come to a book like this as `fresh' as possible. I will share that Linda and her father, Thomas, have an extremely close relationship. One senses their love and understanding of one another. Read carefully about when `Mom' becomes DeAnne.

Linda and Kelly share a wonderfully enriching friendship. This friendship is an enduring one. I loved their letter writing, their support of one another.

This is a most compassionate look at family. One might even look at this as a different `take' on what family is, should be and/or capable of being. It is a memorable, meditative book - one that stirred my memories.

`Bitter in the Mouth' may not be for everyone, but it certainly is a book for me. I loved every minute of it.

It may [perhaps not] be helpful to know that I taught my mother how to do `the twist.' My father and I sang many duets - one was `You Belong To Me.' Also, I like Kandinsky, as well as absolutely love Scriabin.

Did I mention that I loved this book?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 17, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
which may be perfectly appropriate for a book whose main character has synesthesia. Reading this book was like tasting something with complex flavors, some of which you like and others you don't. CLEARLY, Monique Truong can write some gorgeous prose, create some powerful metaphors, and make one stop and think. But the whole of this book is significantly less than the sum of its parts.

The use of synesthesia as an element of the protagonist's nature creates the ability for some interesting analogies and symbolism. But the way in which it's incorporated into the writing is extremely distracting. Moreover, it seems unnecessary. The issues with which the protagonist struggles have nothing to do with her synesthesia, and her synesthesia adds nothing to her or our understanding of her situation or her reaction to it. Ultimately, while this trope provided the opportunity for a fascinating set-piece about various artists with unusual perceptual challenges, it seemed like more of a gimmick than anything.

The characters in this book are potentially very interesting, but none of them is really fleshed out into a person about whom one really cares. Similarly, many of the characters have endured difficult, and sometimes, traumatic experiences, yet none of them really moved me as I would have expected or wanted to be moved.

Ultimately, I was not particularly engaged in this novel, and I find that result to be particularly disappointing in light of the obvious talent possessed by the author. I think with more time and better editing, she will learn to thin down her plotlines and casts of characters, so as to create a story and people that truly move a reader. "Bitter in the Mouth" contains enough brilliant and startling passages to demonstrate that Monique Truong has the capacity to write a great novel; she just needs to learn how to sustain the magic of many of her individual sentences throughout an entire book
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's been a long time since I've been introduced to a character as original as Linda - a woman who suffers from auditory-gustatory synesthesia. Or, in simpler terms, she has the rare ability to "taste" words as a result of a "neurological condition that caused the involuntary mixing of the senses."

Monique Truong represents her condition by marrying tastes with words; for example, "I thought youcannedgreenbeans knewpeanut butter." Or "Lindamint. Stopcannedcorn it!" While the narrative can become a little cloying with this consistent device, it does serve to show the reader how estranged Linda is from her family...and indeed, just about everyone else in her life.

Except for her colorful great-uncle, Baby Harper. Baby Harper harbors his own secrets - he, too, is not in sync with their rural North Carolina hometown - and he has a particularly strong bond with his grand-niece, whom he accepts wholeheartedly.

There are several twists and turns in this sometimes elegiac book, and I would not want to provide unnecessary spoilers. The book is well worth reading for many reasons; the first is that it provides the only in-depth look of synesthesia I recall in my many years of reading. For example, Linda says, "I sometimes would crave a word. For me, there was, and still is, an appreciable distinction between hearing the word said and saying it for myself, though both would produce the same incomings. It was the difference between being served a good meal and having to cook one for myself."

Another reason: Bitter In The Mouth is a wonderful examination of loneliness and yearning for love, as in this differentiation between the missing and the void: "The void was the person, place or thing that was never there in the first place. The missing existed but was no longer present. One was theoretical loss. The other was actual. Which was worse?" Both the missing and the void are explored in their various manifestations.

At times, the intrusions of North Carolina history halt the forward progression of the novel. And the ending is a little too wrapped up. Yet it is still a fascinating look at the experience of being an outsider within a dysfunctional family: an acerbic and infantilizing grandmother, a "respectable" father, a distant mother in the honeyed south.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 23, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Bitter in the Mouth" is a new novel from Monique Truong, whose first novelThe Book of Salt: A Novel, was a bestselling, raved-about by the critics, debut. It is set in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, a small southern town that is close enough to the area of Wilmington, where I live, that my local newspaper gives us its news, too. This makes it of extra interest to this reader, who has lived in this vicinity for more than five years.

It centers on Linda Hammerick, who has a burdensome condition, apparently called synesthesia, she "tastes" words. So quite ordinary words, her family's, friends', and boyfriends' names, for example, remind her of orange sherbet and parsnips; her own name is mint-flavored.

What we get in the first part of the book, "Confession," is, to me, a pretty standard coming of age tale, though, to be sure, set in a small Southern town, which can be assumed to be somewhat different from, say, a small New England town. At any rate, as Linda has grown up in Boiling Springs, she has always felt herself to be different. Her early school days, up through high school, are a trial, and, in addition, she's got the additional burden of this odd condition. But she dances and dines out with her eccentric uncle Baby Harper, wrestles with her outspoken grandmother Iris; loves her father Thomas, finds her mother, DeAnne difficult, and is best friends forever with Kelly. Finally, she goes away to do undergraduate work at Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, and to study law at New York's Columbia University; she then settles in New York. Truong writes with brevity and wit, she seems to have a lovely light touch on what makes the South so different, and she's often a pleasure to read, yet I was a bit disappointed in this first section. In the first place, until proven otherwise, I will continue to believe that all American/Canadian high schools are much the same and I don't feel the need to read one more book about them. In the second place, dialog in this book is made difficult to read by Linda's condition. How do you like "There's a highgreenLifesaverswaycanned pears out of this hole-hushpuppies, Lindamint," as a sentence of dialog? (Sorry, but I am unable to use the italics in the original). But every sentence is like that. I don't like trying to read that, and am generally not willing to work so hard at reading a book, unless I really really like it.

In the second section, "Revelation," we get more of Linda's backstory, and she finally becomes more interesting, and more sympathetic, to me, but, as the old working class expression goes, by now, it's a day late and a dollar short. And no way was I going to struggle through the first part of the book again.

Still, in her brief career, Truong has won many awards. BOOK OF SALT was a "New York Times" Notable Book. It won the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, the 2003 Bard Fiction Prize, the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award, and the Seventh Annual Asian American Literary Award. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Britain's Guardian First Book Award. She is the recipient of the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship, and was awarded the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton for 2007-08. I expect we'll hear more from the author, and it will be high-quality work, which will, I hope, not be so difficult to struggle through. Meanwhile, an extra star for local interest.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 22, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
BITTER IN THE MOUTH has some very original attributes as well as writing that sometimes rises to the level of excellent. Unfortunately the book also has some pretentious almost incomprehensible language as well as some clichéd plot points making for an overall average reading experience.

The narrator and heroine of the story is Linda a bright girl growing up in small town North Carolina in the 1970's and 80's. Linda feels alienated in her family and small Southern town in part because she was born with a rare neurological condition called synesthesia which in her case manifests itself by certain words eliciting specific tastes in her mouth. For example she tastes mint when she hears her name, the word "first" produces Pepto-Bismal, the word "please" lemon juice and so on. The inclusion of these tastes after words soon becomes tedious and seems like a gimmick. In the second half of the book the author reveals another major "difference" about Linda from her family. This revelation will not come as a big shock to anyone who has read any biographical information about author Monique Truong.

Aside from the two original "differences" the book is scattered with some other unusual information. Short episodes about North Carolina characters Virginia Dare, Wilbur and Orville Wright and poet George Moses are included for some reason that is not readily apparent. Linda keeps an almost life long correspondence with her best friend Kelly which struck me as unlikely and unbelievable especially considering some of the observations they make at given ages. There are also some characters and plot devices that are heavily used in "chick lit". There is the fat best friend who had a baby by a mysterious lover, the abusive neighbor boy, the kindly gay uncle who is the only one who understands Linda, time at an Ivy League college followed by a successful career in Manhattan, the rich boyfriend who dumps Linda when a bump in the road (cancer) comes along. All is explained about Linda, her origins and her difficult relationship with her mother by the book's end but it all seems quite contrived. The book is definitely "different" in some aspects but really is not much more than an "OK" beach read.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
To praise Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel as sensational is at once an understatement and a play on words for sensation, as in an exquisite sense of taste, is the essential ingredient of this brilliant and moving novel by Monique Truong.

I was immediately taken by the clever and unique word crafting of the first paragraph. I knew I was going to love this novel for the wit alone. By Chapter 2, I was so captivated by its eccentric characterizations and the clever plotting, I could hardly put the book down.

This is one of those special novels that must be read slowly to be experienced and savoured to the fullest. Reviews which spoil the plot are a real disservice to the reader.

This engaging story is at first reminiscent of Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel inasmuch as the heroine of Ms. Bender's novel, Rose, has the ability to taste emotion in food. In Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel Linda, its endearing and precocious heroine, has the ability to taste words. Whereas in Ms. Bender's story the special tasting ability is more a fantastical plot device, in Monique Truong's novel Linda possesses a very real but rare quality known as synesthesia. The fact that synesthesia is a scientifically established neurological condition causing the involuntary mixing of senses, Linda's character becomes all the more true-to-life and easy to connect with. We too can feel Linda's "incomings", those triggers which are often delightful pleasures for Linda but also bitter agitators.

Ms. Truong deftly presents to the reader Linda's experience of mixed senses with cleverly constructed sentences which articulate Linda's perceptions. The effective first person narrative by Linda is intimate and undisguised. Linda explains early ~

"For me, the words that didn't bring with them a taste were sanctuaries, a cloister in which I could hear the meaning as clear as my own heart beating. The rest of my vocabulary was populated by an order of monks who had broken their vows of silence and in this act had revealed themselves to me. Not their innermost feelings of sadness or ecstasy. Not the colors that they wore underneath their robes. But what they last placed in their mouths."

Ms. Truong has given us a truly beautiful and sensitive novel, resplendent with rich metaphors, reflecting the search, discovery and expression of personal identity. It speaks of love, understanding, acceptance and connection. It is a universal story about finding one's self within one's self, within our family, within our friendships, and within our personal relationships. It tells of finding our place in our past, in history, in our community and in society. It celebrates each our personal story. These common and sometimes mysterious facts of life are gently explored in Linda's search for her true self.

What is revealed through each beautifully written page of Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel is honest, witty and wise. It is also often sad and heartrending but always life affirming. It is a rewarding reading experience; a rich and sensual novel to be savoured and enjoyed.

I enthusiastically recommend this wonderful piece of fiction by the brilliant and gifted Monique Truong!
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 30, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was prepared to not like this book as the blurb about it seemed a bit implausible, but the selections for my Vine review picks that week were sketchy and this book looked to be the best of the lot. I am so glad I did choose it, because it turned out to be a very interesting book that showed friendships and families in the light of how they really are warts and all. Linda loves her father and is close to him, she is distant from her mother, extremely close to her great-uncle and has a best friend, Kelly, which she communicates by letters from their first little girl notes until the end of the book when they are in their early 30's I believe. Not only does this book show the problems within the family, it also shows what Linda and her mother go through to heal their relationship.

Linda `suffers' from synesthesia ([...]), although she would not call it suffering. Her form consists of every spoken word leaves a taste in her mouth which means that every word has certain connotations to her. For example, Mom equals chocolate milk, the name Leo equals parsnips. The only one that she has been able to discuss this with is her best friend Kelly, which is one of the reasons for the written letters between them over the years. Verbal language made it incredibly hard for her to handle the `incomings' as she called them. It isn't until she sees a TV program about people with other forms of synesthesia that Linda learns she is not alone.

What is found most appealing in reading this book, is that within minutes I felt like I was reading a girl's true diary if girls had the writing ability of an adult to write out their feelings. I had to remind myself many times throughout reading this book that it was fiction. The entire book is narrated by Linda and as she learns things or understand past moments in time, only then do we learn and understand them too. This is a different and lovely novel and by the end of the book, you are really hoping for a happy ending for Linda even past the actual end of the book. You feel like you know her and want the best for her after all she has gone through. I will certainly be looking for more books by this author.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While Linda is growing up in the small town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, back in the 70s and 80s, she knows that she is different from everyone else, even the members of her own family. She "tastes" words. When she hears or speaks them, an association with a flavor bombards her, which she calls "incomings."

Her best friend Kelly writes letters to her, first to launch their friendship, and then to connect with her afterwards, even though they live in the same neighborhood. The letter connection is one small bit of normalcy for Linda.

In this story, we follow the "confessions" of Linda, including her descriptions of daily life in this small town, her first crush on a boy named Wade, and a horrendous experience that will overshadow these years. When she finally "escapes" the town and goes to Yale, we continue in this vein, moving between the past and the present, until this section is complete.

Another very important and positive presence in Linda's life is her great-uncle "Baby Harper." Gradually she comes to rely on his presence and his adoration.

In the second section, revelations begin. We finally learn some of the reasons for Linda's unique experiences, as well as why she has no memory of her first seven years.

While Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel was a very compelling story, there were parts of this novel that were slow; the first section even seemed confusing at times, with the tendency to leap around between past and present. The flow was not as smooth as I would have liked.

In the second section, however, the novel "redeemed itself" for me and finished with a blaze of triumphant renderings, which is why I gave this tale four stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This review has been a long time in the making because I've read this book and re-read it a couple times. Not like I read it once, then read it again. More like I'd read 50 pages; then refer back to the beginning. This is not a hard book to read or a complicated story. It just comes off as both at times. Mainly because of the main character, Linda, and her condition which is : With words come taste.

This coming of age story about Linda and her family and her best friend is bland but with some interesting textures. I did not like the style that the author chose. I tired of only hearing Linda's voice. This book did not "beckon" me. I didn't care that much about Linda but I was interested in the relationship with Baby Harper. I also wanted the big reveal about why she and her mother were so distant. I wanted to know this story because I felt like this author had something, not necessarily with this novel but it is evident that there is something. The writing is good at moments but then it doesn't quite make it. So little happened that to tell anything is to give away the story (I don't consider it a plot). I will conclude with saying that you may find this writing beautiful and fluid. If so, you'll approach the end where there are some small surprises and you will feel rewarded.
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