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Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 31, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Linda Hammerick has a special yet burdensome gift--she experiences words as tastes. Linda's boyfriends' names, for example, remind her of orange sherbet and parsnips; her own name is mint-flavored. Depending on the speaker, listening, for Linda, can be delicious or distasteful. In the first part of the book, Linda interacts with her family: she dances with her eccentric uncle Baby Harper, whose sing-song voice limits her "tasting his words"; she faced off with her acerbic grandmother, Iris; deals with her adored father, Thomas, and her unsympathetic mother, Deanne, whose infatuation with a neighborhood boy leaves Linda vulnerable to his predatory advances. Woven into Linda's story is the history of her home state, North Carolina--slaveholding days, the first airplane flight, and local Indian lore. But when a sudden tragedy brings Linda back home from New York City, she finds answers to a life that has been made up of half-finished sentences, as the secret of her origins and the clandestine histories of those around her are revealed one by one. Truong's (Book of Salt) mesmerizing prose beautifully captures Linda's taste-saturated world, and her portrait of a broken family's secretive pockets and genuine moments of connection is affecting.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Although Bitter in the Mouth may not, ultimately, engage the reader as much as the lyrical Book of Salt, critics agreed that Truong's second novel is original, poetic, and compelling in its own right. Complex and layered, it is a coming-of-age tale about the search for identity, family, and human connection. Yet reviewers expressed reservations about the very parts that make the novel unique. While some thought the premise (synesthesia) clever, a few found Linda's dialogue labored, distracting, and self-conscious. Others felt that the revelation of Linda's past is contrived and comes too late in the narrative. Still, wrote the Miami Herald, "On a second encounter, even if less remarkable than the first, it's still a rare, refreshing palate--one to savor."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069084
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069088
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Pippa Lee VINE VOICE on September 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine 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.
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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!
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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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