Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel Review

Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel
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Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel ReviewThere 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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