Truong remains a stunning wordsmith and a whiz at intellectual showmanship, but Linda’s story tastes of artificial plot...

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BITTER IN THE MOUTH

After the dazzle of her debut (The Book of Salt, 2003), Truong returns with a coming-of-age narrative about a young girl who has always felt like an outsider in her small North Carolina town, not to mention within her own family.

Narrator Linda, born in 1968, hears words as tastes. There is no obvious logic—“Mother” becomes chocolatemilk, “tomorrow” becomes breakfastsausage—but the result makes for lovely juxtapositions. Adored by her lawyer father Thomas and her uncle Baby Harper, a librarian, Linda senses she is merely tolerated by her mother DeAnne. At seven, Linda begins what becomes a lifelong written snail-mail correspondence with best friend Kelly. After 11-year-old Linda is raped by the teenager who mows the family’s lawn, she blames her mother for neither noticing nor protecting her. The rape interferes with Linda’s budding romance with sensitive Wade, the object of Kelly’s affection as well. In high school, previously overweight but precocious Kelly thins and dumbs down to join the popular crowd until she gets pregnant (father unnamed but obvious) and must leave town her senior year. Tomboyish Linda takes the school-valedictorian route, smoking cigarettes to block taste “incomings” that make academic concentration difficult. After her father’s death when she is 17, Linda leaves for Yale. Flash forward to 1998. Now a lawyer whose fiancé leaves her when cancer makes childbearing impossible, Linda discovers she has an actual neurological condition called synesthesia, which causes “involuntary mixing of the senses.” She also finally acknowledges what readers have long suspected: by birth Linda is Vietnamese; she was adopted after her birth father and mother, whom Thomas had loved while in law school, if not more recently, died in a fire. As Linda learns about her secret history as well as her Uncle’s sexual secrets and DeAnne’s private heartache, she and DeAnne grow closer and learn to forgive, perhaps even love, one another.

Truong remains a stunning wordsmith and a whiz at intellectual showmanship, but Linda’s story tastes of artificial plot manipulation.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6908-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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