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Bitter in the Mouth

Cover of Bitter in the Mouth

Bitter in the Mouth

A Novel
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Bitter in the Mouth is a brilliant, virtuosic novel about a young woman's search for identity and the true meaning of family."What I know about you, little girl, would break you in two" are the...More
Bitter in the Mouth is a brilliant, virtuosic novel about a young woman's search for identity and the true meaning of family."What I know about you, little girl, would break you in two" are the...More
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Description-
  • Bitter in the Mouth is a brilliant, virtuosic novel about a young woman's search for identity and the true meaning of family.

    "What I know about you, little girl, would break you in two" are the prophetic last words that Linda Hammerick's grandmother says to her. Growing up in small-town North Carolina in the 1970s and '80s, Linda already knows that she is profoundly different from everyone else, including the members of her own family. She can "taste" words. In this and in other ways, her body is a mystery to her. Linda's awkward girlhood is nonetheless enlivened and emboldened by her dancing great-uncle Harper, and Kelly, her letter-writing best friend. Linda makes her way north to college and then to New York City, trying her best to leave her past behind her like "a pair of shoes that no longer fit." But when a family tragedy compels her to return home, Linda uncovers the startling secrets of her past. Monique Truong's acclaimed novel questions our assumptions about what it means to be a family and to be a friend, to be foreign and to be familiar, to be connected to and disconnected from our bodies, our histories, ourselves.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    I fell in love with my great-uncle Harper because he taught me how to dance. He said that rhythm was allowing yourself to feel your blood coursing through you. He told me to close my eyes and forget the rest of my body. I did, and we bopped our nonexistent selves up and down and side to side. He liked me because I was a quiet child. He showed me photographs of himself as a boy. He referred to himself in the third person. This here is Harper Evan Burch, he would say. The boy in those photographs was also a quiet child. I could tell from the way that his arms were always flat by his side, never akimbo or raised high to the North Carolina sky. We were both compact, always folding ourselves into smaller pieces. We both liked music because it was a river where we stripped down, jumped in, and flailed our arms around. 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 whenever we opened our eyes. My great-uncle Harper was my first love. I was seven years old. In his company, I laughed out loud.

    I'm not ashamed to admit that I have tried to find him in the male bodies that I lie next to and that I see him now only when I turn off the lights. His bow tie undone, hanging around his shirt collar-modest isosceles triangles, considering the fashion at the time, his pants cuffed and creased, his graying hair cut the same as when he was a boy, a wedge of it hanging over one eye, the other one a blue lake dappled by the sun.

    My great-uncle Harper wasn't where I thought I would begin, but a family narrative should begin with love. Because he was my first love I was spared the saddest experience in most people's lives. My first love and my first heartbreak were dealt by different pairs of hands. I was lucky. My memories of the two sensations, one of my heart filling and one of it emptying, were divided and lodged in separate bodies. I can still recall the feeling that came over me when my great-uncle Harper first placed the record needle onto a spinning 45. It happened right away. I felt that everything deep within my body was rising to the surface, that my skin was growing thin, that I would come apart. If this sounds painful, it wasn't. It was what love did to my body, which was to transform it. I would come apart like a fireworks display, a burst of light that would grow larger and glow, and make the person below me say, "Ah!" I remembered saying my great-uncle's name aloud. This memory of my first love was then safe from all that was to come.

    I'll tell you the easy things first. I'll use simple sentences. So factual and flat, these statements will land in between us like playing cards on a table: My name is Linda Hammerick. I grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. My parents were Thomas and DeAnne. My best friend was named Kelly. I was my father's tomboy. I was my mother's baton twirler. I was my high school's valedictorian. I went far away for college and law school. I live now in New York City. I miss my great-uncle Harper.

    But once these cards have been thrown down, there are bound to be distorting overlaps, the head of the Queen of Spades on the body of the King of Clubs, the Joker's bowed legs beneath a field of hearts: I grew up in (Thomas and Kelly). My parents were (valedictorian and baton twirler). My best friend was named (Harper). I was my father's (New York City). I was my mother's (college and law school). I was my high school's (tomboy). I went far away for (Thomas and DeAnne). I live now in (Boiling Springs). I miss (Linda Hammerick). The only way to sort...

About the Author-
  • Monique Truong was born in Saigon and currently lives in New York City. Her first novel, The 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 7th Annual Asian American Literary Award, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Britain's Guardian First Book Award. She is the recipient of the PEN American Robert Bingham Fellowship, and was awarded the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton for 2007-2008.

Reviews-
  • O, The Oprah Magazine

    "A deeply compassionate and artfully crafted novel."

  • Los Angeles Times "In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard advises would-be writers to find their bone, the thing that drives them to write....Monique Truong's bone is the outsider's plight, and her pen is a scalpel, laying perfect words down along that nerve until even the happiest reader understands what it means to forever stand apart from your family and the larger society you inhabit."
  • Time Out New York "Fast-moving and beautifully strange....[Linda's] tasting words...quickly becomes second nature and eventually, metaphorical poetry. It has a poignancy that sneaks up on you, just like Truong's entire clever tale."
  • The Oregonian "A flavorful, haunting journey....Truong is a powerful writer."
  • , starred review) "Truong's mesmerizing prose beautifully captures [the heroine's] taste-saturated world, and her portrait of a broken family's secretive pockets and genuine moments of connection is affecting."--Publishers Weekly ("Pick of the Week"
  • Booklist (starred review) "Absorbing . . . Truong is a gifted storyteller, and in this quietly powerful novel she has created a compelling and unique character."
  • Jayne Anne Phillips "Monique Truong's Bitter in the Mouth, every word a taste, is a revelation of wit and heart and stunning talent. Truong invents Americana for a new America: from Great Uncle Harper to Dr Pepper and the Wright Brothers, she shades her classic coming of age tale with a magical ferocity that recalls Doctorow and Nabokov. Bitter in the Mouth is a soulful hymn to the hands we fashion with the cards we're dealt."
  • Gloria Steinem

    "Monique Truong creates a world so subtle, mysterious, moving and sensory that it heightens our consciousness of those qualities in our own. Bitter in the Mouth is the rare novel that makes one life story unique and universal at the same time."
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