Monday, July 12, 2010

"Bitter in the Mouth" by Monique Truong

I would not have read this novel if I hadn't been invited to a dinner with the author. (THANK YOU, Random House! I'm looking forward to it!) Why not? It's kind of a family saga; I don't usually think I like family sagas. (Although I really do like them if they're edgy enough, i.e. The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz). It's also set in the South. I don't mean to offend, but for some reason, I also don't think I usually like novels set in the South. (Again, there are big exceptions: To Kill a Mockingbird and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, for example.) The third strike? The main character is a Yale grad. (Ha! Just kidding! Kind of...)
Despite those prejudices, I am so glad I am reading this! I had heard wonderful things about Truong's previous novel, The Book of Salt, so I knew I would be able to find something nice to say to her if I got to sit near her by the author dinner. Oh, will I ever!
The title refers to the fact that the narrator, Linda, has synesthesia that makes her taste words as she hears and speaks them. (This is quite different from the girl who can taste emotions in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but I do find myself wanting to read Bender's book just to think about these characters who are so affected by taste.) This element of the story is fascinating, but it is sometimes distracting as well-- during dialog, we read the words and the tastes they evoke to Linda. Example: "Did youcannedgreenbeans readpotatochips it?" I understand that the tastes are distracting and disorienting to Linda, but they're even more so to a reader. Yes, it helps us empathize with her sometimes-torment with the "incomings" (taste perceptions linked to words), but because the tastes are not really linked to the words themselves, I am starting to skip/skim the italicized words. And that bothers me a little, because Truong is such a good writer that I have to believe that every word is deliberate, and I should give every word its deserved attention. Like Linda, I have to anesthetize myself somewhat, and that bugs me sometimes.
But there's so much to savor in this book, too!
I love, love, love Linda's friendship with neighbor Kelly. Their letters to one another remind me of childhood correspondence that deepened friendships in my life. I also adore Linda's great uncle Baby Harper. He will be dancing in my mind long after this book is over!
I have about 50 more pages to go. I'm not rushing to finish it because I want to linger. It's that kind of novel. Ahhhh.
It will be on sale August 31. If it sounds good to you, please make your local independent bookseller extremely happy by pre-ordering a copy of Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong!


kim said...

i read "the book of salt" mainly because truong is one of the most celebrated hedgebrook alums (apart from gloria steinem). i really enjoyed it. why is it that writers never tire of reading/writing about other writers?

one of my favorite bits was the observation that the main thing gertrude stein and alice b. toklas had in common was that they both loved gertrude stein.

p.s. i just discovered your blog today and hastily read all your entries. i love that you're writing about two of my favorite things. also, i'm getting some great tips on where geoff can get a good veggie meal. your descriptions are tempting me to consider forgoing the pig once in awhile. maybe.

p.s. #2: admit it. it was those Popco vegetarians who won you over, right?

TSquared said...

Welcome to the blog, Kim!!! Thank you, thank you! I had forgotten about those Popco vegetarians: what a hoot! Maybe I'll start playing with tinctures next. ;)