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 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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changed that summer. She no longer dotted her i’s with an anatomical heart. The ventricles receded into the organ. The muscle puffed and took on the symmetrical shape of its most common misrepresentation. It was fitting that she signaled her abandonment of reality in this small way. On the bus that first morning of sixth grade, I knew that nothing had changed between Kelly and Wade. She was still an invisible fat girl, and he was a beatific boy, a body that she had dragged into her life by the
around for her usual glimpses of her intended, who had become so beautiful that he was almost otherworldly. I experienced something new that morning too. It was both pleasurable and uncomfortable. There was a sensation at the back of my head as if someone were holding his hands close to my hair but never quite touching. I turned around and Wade smiled at me. He had handed me a note as the school bus had pulled up to our stop that morning. This act alone told me that the orange sherbet boy was no
path. Each minute was a temple or a fountain. I revisited the city not to remember facts but to see them anew. When I see that morning now, I see the faces around the kitchen table, and I see DeAnne’s dress. Most clearly, I see the exposed skin, so pale against the black fabric of her dress, and I see there not a lapse in memory but the persistence of it. I feel anger, adult and reasoned, toward my lovesick father for squandering something valuable for something fleeting. I feel something
eighty-eight of us. After days of carefully orchestrated events in grand and soaring architectural spaces, the outdoor setup for the Presentation of the Diplomas had the feeling of a gospel revival in a small southern town. Handing out the diplomas within the respective residential colleges was an effort, an obvious ploy, I thought, to assure parents that their children had enjoyed a personalized, nay, “intimate,” educational experience at Yale. The master and dean of each residential college
casserolespoundcake anyricewaycannedpears. To thank me, I think. And, like I’ve said, she usually has some coffee and then she goes. She reallypopcorn hasn’t shown anyrice interest in seeing the restTwinkie of the housefreshpeaches.” Curiosity has never been a strong suit of DeAnne’s, I thought, and then decided not to say it aloud. Because making fun of DeAnne’s cooking was one thing, but making fun of her intellect seemed to me suddenly cruel. Standing there in the entryway of my