Linda Hammerick grew up in small-town Boiling Springs, North Carolina, always knowing she was a little different from everyone else. To her, words have tastes. The sound of mother brings the flavor of chocolate milk to her mouth, even if her mother is anything but comforting and sweet. The name of the neighbor boy evokes a palate of orange sherbet, and hearing her own name the earthy tang of fresh mint. Bitter in the Mouth is the story of Linda’s life with these never-ending incoming tastes.
At its core, Bitter in the Mouth is a beautiful novel, the words are soft and flow sweetly around Linda who is a character we can appreciate and enjoy. We’re given tidbits of her childhood, from meeting her best friend via letters, to the instant bond she shares with her great-uncle, to the abhorrence she feels for her absent mother and abrasive grandmother. I enjoyed the relationships Truong developed amongst Linda and the others. I only wish the whole book had been as cohesive as its main artery.
There are major parts of Linda’s story that we’re not told about in the beginning; this is a common tool of writing, but when those pieces of information are revealed later in the novel, it’s less of an unveiling and more of a brick to the head. Basically, it left me wondering why the choice to hide so much crucial detail until the very end. A similar conundrum were strange threads that magically appeared throughout the novel, but had no connection to anything other than North Carolina. The Wright brothers and their first flights, the legend of Virginia Dare, and a story about George Horton, a poet and slave. I literally have no idea why these characters or stories were involved. If there’s a reason for them, other than abstraction, it’s complete lost on me.
The other complaint I have about Bitter in the Mouth is a technical one. I know the author is trying to explain the tastes that Linda experiences when she says or hears a particular word, but the way these tastes are connected to the words is distracting. For every sentence spoken aloud, a specific taste is attached to each provoking word in italics. For example: momchocolatemilk, Lindamint, Wadeorangesherbertboy. This makes for a distracting and often halting flow of reading when full sentences are constructed this way. Either the sentence’s meaning is lost, or if you choose to gloss over the italics, the taste is lost. I have no better solution to this problem, but it’s sad that the connection between word and taste fell flat for me.
In general I really enjoyed the majority of Truong’s writing, I think she created a wonderfully realistic, yet unique character and world around Linda. There’s so much more to her story than just the synesthesia she experiences with words. There are certain things about Bitter in the Mouth that I did not love so much, but I lived through them and would still recommend this novel to those who might be intrigued by the premise.
(I received a free copy through the Amazon Vine program)