Sunday, July 28, 2013

Monique Truong--Bitter in the Mouth (2010)

This is a beautiful novel.  Such gorgeous writing.  People's whose taste I admire were praising it on facebook, so I gave it a try.

It's the story of Linda, who grows up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, in the 1970s and 1980s.  It jumps around in time, from high school, to elementary school, to law school at Yale and her life as a lawyer in New York City.  Linda has lexical-gustatory synesthesia, which means that she experiences many words as flavors.  Growing up, she has no explanation for her experiences, which she quickly learns to keep mostly to herself, after her mother forbids her from talking crazy.

Though Boiling Springs is a tiny, conservative, southern town, Linda's experiences reflect the changing South of the seventies and eighties, as changes in understandings of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity, and even psychological health unfold.  As her own understanding of reality has been mediated since birth by her synesthesia, Linda's observation of these changes (as well as her own understanding of them) is both beautiful and insightful.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, because even though plot is my least favorite part of a novel, there are important revelations along the way.  I totally plan on using this in my fall Introduction to Fiction Class--"The Many Souths"--because it does address a good job of addressing southern identity.  What does it mean to identify as southern?  What happens to those with a conflicted southern identity?