Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Giving a whole new meaning to "eating your words"

Imagine what life would be like if your senses were tied together.  If, for example, you saw colors assigned to each letter or number; or if each different color, and each shade of each color, evoked a different musical note.  This is the experience of synesthetes, people whose senses are crossed.  Imagine what your life would be like if you tasted words.  That is the fate of Linda Hammerick, the main character in Monique Truong's new book, Bitter in the Mouth, and yet it is not definitive of her story.
 
Linda, who narrates the book, offers a deliberately obtuse presentation of her life.  Stories are reintroduced several times, each time providing a new perspective, a new nugget of truth, a new sense of what was, and what might have been.  In the book's opening, Linda lays down the facts of her life as cards on the table, but warns the reader that, in looking at the cards, there are "bound to be distorting overlaps...The only way to sort out the truth is to pick up the cards again, slowly, examining each one." 

At times, vital pieces of the story are deliberately hidden, as if Linda doesn't want to reveal them until she trusts the reader enough to go back and fill in what she had left out before.  I realize I am referring to Linda's, rather than Truong's, literary decisions, but the sense of character is incredibly strong; Truong has effectively presented a protaganist who is distant and closed off, but who is without question the voice of the story, and whose method of telling of the story is as much a part of the characterization as the words she does share. 

As a word of warning, Linda's narration presents dialogue the way it comes to her, tastes included.  A sample conversation between Linda and her best friend reads:

"I'll neverbubblegum speaklemonade to youcannedgreenbeans againpancakenosyrup!"
"Youcannedgreenbeans neverbubblegum say anyricethingtomato to me now."

Fortunately, Linda doesn't like to talk a lot, and dialogue is kept to a minimum.  And, while distracting, the presentation does provide an insight into the impact Linda's synesthesia has in her interactions with others.

This is a book best read slowly and deliberately, the way Lindamint presents it. 

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