Lark and Termite

Lark and Termite

by Jayne Anne Phillips


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375701931
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/12/2010
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 740,859
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.91(d)

About the Author

Jayne Anne Phillips is the author of three previous novels and two collections of widely anthologized stories. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Bunting Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, and an Academy Award in Literature (1997) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Phillips is currently professor of English and director of the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

Winfield, West VirginiaJuly 26, 1959LarkI move his chair into the yard under the tree and then Nonie carries him out. The tree is getting all full of seeds and the pods hang down. Soon enough the seeds will fly through the air and Nonie will have hay fever and want all the windows shut to keep the white puffs out. Termite will want to be outside in the chair all the time then, and he’ll go on and on at me if I try to keep him indoors so I can do the ironing or clean up the dishes. Sun or rain, he wants to be out, early mornings especially. “OK, you’re out,” Nonie will say, and he starts his sounds, quiet and satisfied, before she even puts him down. She has on her white uniform to go to work at Charlie’s and she holds Termite out from her a ways, not to get her stockings run with his long toenails or her skirt stained with his fingers because he always has jam on them after breakfast.“There’s Termite.” Nonie puts him in the chair with his legs under him like he always sits. Anybody else’s legs would go to sleep, all day like that. “You keep an eye on him, Lark,” Nonie tells me, “and give him some lemonade when it gets warmer. You can put the radio in the kitchen window. That way he can hear it from out here too.” Nonie straightens Termite. “Get him one of those cleaner-bag ribbons from inside. I got to go, Charlie will have my ass.”A car horn blares in the alley. Termite blares too then, trying to sound like the horn. “Elise is here,” Nonie says. “Don’t forget to wash the dishes, and wipe off his hands.” She’s already walking off across the grass, but Termite is outside so he doesn’t mind her going. Elise waves at me from inside her Ford. She’s a little shape in the shine of glare on the window, then the gravel crunches and they’re moving off fast, like they’re going somewhere important. “Termite,” I say to him, and he says it back to me. He always gets the notes right, without saying the words. His sounds are like a one-toned song, and the day is still and flat. It’s seven in the morning and here and there a little bit of air moves, in pieces, like a tease, like things are getting full so slow no one notices. On the kitchen wall we have one of those glass vials with blue water in it, and the water rises if it’s going to storm. The water is all the way to the top and it’s like a test now to wait and see if the thing works, or if it’s so cheap it’s already broken. “Termite,” I tell him, “I’ll fix the radio. Don’t worry.” He’s got to have something to listen to.He moves his fingers the way he does, with his hands up and all his fingers pointing, then curving, each in a separate motion, fast or careful. He never looks at his fingers but I always think he hears or knows something through them, like he does it for some reason.Charlie says he’s just spastic, that’s a spastic motion; Nonie says he’s fidgety, with whatever he has that he can’t put to anything. His fingers never stop moving unless we give him something to hold, then he holds on so tight we have to pry whatever it is away from him. Nonie says that’s just cussedness. I think when he holds something his fingers rest. He doesn’t always want to keep hearing things.My nightgown is so thin I shouldn’t be standing out here, though it’s not like it matters. Houses on both sides of the alley have seen about everything of one another from their secondfloor windows. No one drives back here but the people who live here, who park their cars in the gravel driveways that run off the alley. We don’t have a car, but the others do, and the Tuccis have three—two that run and one that doesn’t. It’s early summer and the alley has a berm of plush grass straight up the center. All us kids—Joey and Solly and Zeke and me—walked the grass barefoot in summer, back and forth to one another’s houses. I pulled Termite in the wagon and the wheels fit perfectly in the narrow tire tracks of the alley. Nick Tucci still calls his boys thugs, proud they’re quick and tough. He credits Nonie with being the only mother his kids really remember, back when we were small.Today is Sunday. Nick Tucci will run his push mower along the berm of the alley, to keep the weeds down. He does it after dusk, when he gets home from weekend overtime at the factory and he’s had supper and beer, and the grass smells like one sharp green thread sliced open. I bring Termite out. He loves the sound of that mower and he listens for it, once all the way down, once back. He makes a low murmur like r’s strung together, and he has to listen hard over the sounds of other things, electric fans in windows, radio sounds, and he sits still and I give him my sandals to hold. He looks to the side like he does, his hands fit into my shoes. Hiseyes stay still, and he hears. If I stand behind his chair I can feel the blade of the mower too; I feel it roll and turn way down low in me, making a whirl and a cutting. Sundays seem as long as a year. Sundays I don’t walk up Kanawha Hill to Main Street to Barker Secretarial. I’m nearly through second semester, Typing and Basic Skills, but I’m First of Class and Miss Barker lets me sit in on Steno with the second-year girls. Miss Barker is not young. She’s a never-married lady who lives in her dead father’s house and took over the school for him when he died of a heart attack about ten years ago. The school is up above the Five & Ten, on the second floor of the long building with the long red sign that says in gold letters murphy’s five and ten cent store. It’s a really old sign, Nonie says, it was there when she and my mother were growing up, but the store was both floors then. Now Barker Secretarial has filled the big upstairs room with lines of Formica-topped desks, each with a pullout shelf where we keep our typing books (Look to the right, not to the keyboard, look to the right—). We have to be on time because the drills are timed and we turn on our machines all at once; there’s a ratchety click and a rumble, like the whole room surges, then it hums. The typewriters hum one note: it’s a note Termite could do, but what would he do with the sound of us typing. We all work at one speed for practice drills. We’re like a chorus and the clacking of the keys sounds measured, all together. Then at personal best we go for speed and all the rates are different. The machines explode with noise, running over themselves. Up near the big windows, for half the room, there’s a lowered fake ceiling with long fluorescent lights. The tops of the windows disappear in that ceiling and I hate it and I sit in the back. Barker Secretarial stopped with the ceiling halfway when they realized they didn’t have the money for air-conditioning, and they brought in big fans that roll on wheels like the wheels on Termite’s chair. Miss Barker gets those fans going and we all have to wear scarves to keep our hair from flying around. With the noise and the motion I can think I’m high up, moving fast above the town and the trees and the river and the bridges, and as long as I’m typing I won’t crash. I tell Termite, “It’s not going to rain yet. He’ll still mow the alley. There’s not going to be stars though. It’s going to be hot and white, and the white sky will go gray. Then really late we might have that big storm they talk about.” Big storm they talk about, Termite says back to me, in sounds like my words.“That’s right,” I tell him. “But you’ll have to watch from the window. Don’t think you’re going to sit out here in the rain with lightning flashing all around you.”He doesn’t say anything to that. He might be thinking how great it would be, wind and rain, real hard rain, not like the summer rain we let him sit out in sometimes. He likes motion. He likes things on his skin. He’s alive all over that way. Nonie says I put thoughts in his head, he might not be thinking anything. Maybe he doesn’t have to think, I tell her. Just don’t you be thinking a lot of things about him that aren’t true, she’ll say. But no one can tell what’s true about him.Termite was pretty when he was a baby. People would coo over him when we walked him in the big carriage. His forehead was real broad and he had blond curls and those blue eyes that move more than normal, like he’s watching something we don’t see. He was so small for his age that Nonie called him a mite, then Termite, because even then he moved his fingers, feeling the air. I think he’s in himself like a termite’s in a wall.I remember when Termite came. Nonie is his guardian and his aunt, but I’m his sister. In a way he’s more mine than anyone else’s. He’ll be mine for longer, is what Nonie says. Nonie isn’t old but she always says to me about when she’ll be gone. She looks so strong, like a block or a rectangle, strong in her shoulders and her back and her wide hips, even in her legs and their blue veins that she covers up with her stockings. Your mother didn’t bring him, is what Nonie told me, someone brought him for her. Not his father. Nonie says Termite’s father was only married to my mother for a year. He was a baby, Nonie says, twenty-one when my mother was nearly thirty, and those bastards left him over there in Korea. No one even got his body back and they had to have the service around a flag that was folded up. Nonie says it was wrong and it will never be right. But I don’t know how Termite got here because Nonie sent me away that week to church camp. I was nine and had my birthday at camp, and when I came home Termite was here. He was nearly a year old but he couldn’t sit up byhimself, and Nonie had him a baby bed and clothes and a high chair with cushions and straps, and she had papers that were signed. She never got a birth certificate though, so we count the day he came his birthday, but I make him a birthday whenever it suits me.“Today could be a birthday,” I tell him. “One with a blue cake, yellow inside, and a lemon taste. You like that kind, with whipped cream in the center, to celebrate the storm coming, and Nick Tucci will get some with his ice tea tonight, and I’ll help you put the candles in. You come inside with me while I mix it and you can hold the radio. You can turn the dials around, OK?”Dials around OK. I can almost answer for him. But I don’t. And he doesn’t, because he doesn’t want to come inside. I can feel him holding still; he wants to sit here. He puts his hand up to his face, to his forehead, as though he’s holding one of the strips of blue plastic Nonie calls ribbons: that’s what he wants. “There’s no wind, Termite, no air at all,” I tell him. He blows with his lips, short sighs.So I move his chair back from the alley a bit and I go inside and get the ribbon, a strip of a blue plastic dry-cleaner bag about four inches wide and two feet long. It’s too small to get tangled and anyway we watch him; I take it out to him and wrap it around his hand twice and he holds it with his fingers curled, up to his forehead. “I’ll get dressed and clean up the kitchen,” I tell him, “but when I make the cake you’re going to have to come inside, OK?”He casts his eyes sideways at me. That means he agrees, but he’s thinking about the blue, that strip of space he can move.“You ring the bell if you want anything,” I say.The bell on his chair was my idea; it’s really a bell for a hotel desk, flat, and he can press the knob with his wrist. That bell was mounted on a piece of metal with holes, maybe so no one would steal it once upon a time, or so it wouldn’t get misplaced. A lot of years ago, I sewed it to the arm of Termite’s chair with thick linen cord. His bell has a high, nice sound, not a bad sound. He presses it twice if he has to go to the bathroom, or a lot if something is wrong, or sometimes just once, now and then in the quiet, like a thought.“Termite,” I tell him, “I’m going back in.”Back in, back in, back in. I hear him as I walk away, and now he’ll be silent as a breather, quiet as long as I let him be.I stand at the kitchen sink where I can see him, put the stopper in the sink, run the water as hot as it can get. The smell of the heat comes up at my face. The dishes sink into suds, and I watch Termite. His chair is turned a little to the side, and I can see him blowing on the ribbon, blowing and blowing it, not too fast. The little bit of air that stirs in the yard catches the length of that scrap and moves it. Termite likes the blue of the plastic and he likes to see through it. He blows it out from his face and he watches it move, and it barely touches him, and he blows it away. He’ll dothat for thirty minutes, for an hour, till you take it away from him. In my dreams he does it for days, for years, like he’s keeping time, like he’s a clock or a watch. I draw him that way, fast, with pencil in my notebook. Head up like he holds himself then, wrist raised, moving blue with his breath.People who see him from their second-story windows see a boy in a chair across the alley. They know his name and who he is. They know Noreen and how she’s worked at Charlie Fitzgibbon’s all these years, running the restaurant with Charlie while Gladdy Fitzgibbon owns it all and parcels out the money. How Nonie is raising kids alone that aren’t hers because Charlie has never told his mother to shove it, never walked off and made himself some other work and gone ahead and married a twice-divorced woman with a daughter and another kid who can’t walk and doesn’t talk.Nonie is like my mother. When she introduces me, she says, “This is my daughter, Lark.”Nonie would be raising us anyway, whether Charlie ever did the right thing or not. And I don’t know if she even wants him to, anymore. It’s just Nonie should own part of that restaurant, hard as she works. Charlie does the cooking and runs the kitchen, and Nonie does everything else, always has, ever since she came back here when she left the second husband. She came back and there was Charlie right where she’d left him, living with his mother and going to Mass, and they fell right back into their old ways, and Gladdy fell into hers. Except the Fitzgibbons had just about nothing after the Depression. When Nonie came back, they’d barely held on to their house and the business. They would have lost the restaurant if Nonie hadn’t saved it for them

Reading Group Guide

"Powerful and emotionally piercing. . . . A novel that conjures with goetic ferocity the . . . unconscious almost magical bonds shared by people who are connected by blood or love or memory." —The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Jayne Anne Phillips's richly layered new novel, Lark and Termite.

1. Have you read any of Jayne Anne Phillips's other books? If so, in what ways is Lark and Termite similar to her earlier work, and how is it different?

2. Reread the quotations in the epigraph. Now that you've read the novel, what does each one mean to you?

3. On page 6, Leavitt thinks, "The war makes ghosts of them all." In what ways does this prove true? Which ghosts are literal, and which metaphorical?

4. Who is the strongest person in the novel? The weakest?

5. Mothers, and substitute mothers, play a substantial role in the novel. What do you think Jayne Anne Phillips is trying to say about motherhood?

6. Compare and contrast the sibling relationships in the novel: Lark and Termite, Nonie and Lola, and the nameless Korean pair.

7. Discuss the sense of sound as it relates to each of the main characters. In what ways does sound function differently for Termite than for Nonie or Lark? What about Leavitt and Lola? What does the sense of sound say about the importance of language?

8. Two different tunnels are the settings for major developments in the novel. What do they signify?

9. On page 27, Lola says of Lark, "I gave her a bird's name. Maybe she'll grow up safe and fly away." And on page 37 Lark discusses Termite’s nickname: "I think he's in himself like a termite's in a wall." What other names in the novel carry metaphorical weight?

10. Why does Charlie take care of Lola? What about Onslow?

11. "Termite can only tell the truth," Lark says on page 94. Who else tells the truth? Who lies? What are the ramifications?

12. What role does Solly play? What about his father, Nick?

13. Throughout the novel, we revisit events from different perspectives. How do the multiple takes change your understanding of what's happening?

14. On page 158, Lark says, "It's almost as though Stamble and Termite are related versions of something, but Stamble walks around in the world and Termite doesn't." Who is Robert Stamble? Why does Lark see him?

15. Where do you think Termite's new wheelchair really came from?

16. Discuss the flood. How is each character's life affected?

17. Reread and discuss the final Termite passages, on pages 276-277. What is revealed there?

18. Does the novel have a happy ending?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit


The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Jayne Anne Phillips's richly layered new novel, Lark and Termite.

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Lark and Termite 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
KCSullivan More than 1 year ago
Jayne Anne Phillips has created two complete worlds in her newest book, Lark and Termite. Set nine years apart in both Korea circa 1950 and West Virginia nine years later. While this tends to keep a reader on their toes the author manages to balance the twin story lines masterfully.She also brilliantly captures the horrors of war,"that erupts and lifts it's flaming head" and the day to day struggle of raising a severely handicapped child. Although the story line is full of ample examples of haunting memories it also becomes chock full of actual ghosts. I found the closing chapters too abrupt and full of artifice. It was as if the author was tying up all of the plot lines in a neat package and adding a bow with the improbable "motorcycle leaps on moving train" scene. But by far the biggest problem I had with this book is a portion that is often overlooked in most works. Ms. Phillips listed the following three individuals in her acknowledgments; Charles J. Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe and Martha Mendoza. They are the Associated Press Team responsible for a Pulitzer winning 1999 series of articles about the mass killing of civilians at No Gun Ri.In these articles it was made clear that the American troops were firing on civilians as a result of direct orders from the US military command. Subsequent investigations proved these allegations not only false but fabricated. In light of these details I find the closing ackowledgment disturbing to say the least. In sum I would recomend Lark and Termite as an engaging and thought provoking book. I would also serve it with a healthy dash of salt.
LinskyNJ More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates William Faulkner. Ms. Phillips is a master at setting. The Korean war scenes are suspenseful but not overly graphic, and speak to her powerful imagination. The characters, especially Lark and Termite, are skillfully drawn. Termite narrates the most difficult chapters, offering what Philliaps imagines as the perspective of a mentally and physically handicapped child. This book is drenched with emotion and symbolism, and it's ambiguities sound deep and familiar notes. Simply put, a most satisfying read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great character development. Very interesting -- the best of the story is at the end but don't read ahead - you need the build-up of the characters. Some pretty graphic sex scenes but just a few. The rest of the book is well worth reading.
Mack3 More than 1 year ago
From the write-up on the back cover, I was expecting a truly original book. Unfortunately, it didn't meet my expectations. The characters were not real people characters. The writing style was forced, seemed as if the author was trying to impress the reader instead of telling a good story. The author also seemed to rely on the explicit descriptions of sex to "wow" the reader. In short, this is a book I wish I hadn't purchased.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book sometimes vaguely reminded me of faulkner's "light in august" for obvious reasons. spectacular writing. poetic. great story re-told from the perspective of its several very real characters. i'm keeping this one.
juli1357 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Although I enjoyed "Machine Dreams", I found "Lark and Termite" disappointing. If I hadn't been reading it for a book club, I probably would not have finished it. Phillips writes well, but the book has little plot and there are large portions of the book where nothing much happens, then too much happens at the end. I'm not normally one to critique whether or not what happens in a book is believable, but I found several parts of this book to be completely unrealistic. For example, one of the characters lingers for days with multiple untreated gunshot wounds. One only has to have the most basic knowledge of human anatomy to know that's not possible. Another character rides a motorcycle into a moving train, without any ill effect to himself, the person he drives into or his motorcycle. There are sex scenes involving Lark at the ages of 11 and 17 that are shocking, not only because they seem out of character, but because the time period. Even by today's standards, the sexual acts Lark engages in would be considered way beyond her years. And there is an albino character, who as it turns out, doesn't even really exist. I also disliked the use of parallel lives. It might have worked in another book, but not in this one.
joannemepham29 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I looked forward to this book, and I am so sad to say I did not enjoy it at all. I thought the writing was wonderful, and poetic, but I could have cared less about the story, or the characters, especially Termite. I am not sure why, but I just could not get into the story, though I admired the prose and writing throughout.
Berly on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Okay. So here is why I am not a fan of Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips. Although I really appreciated the unbounded love everyone had for Termite, who is mentally challenged, and the language was beautiful, that was about it. It seemed to me that no one in this book was living up to their full potential. I found the sexual scenes with Lark jarring. I did not enjoy seeing the same incidents through multiple people's eyes. There was no need for that one character to turn out to be a ghost (it actually really ticked me off!) and I felt like the dying wishes of Corporal Robert Leavitt uttered as he mystically attends the birth of his son from afar caused Termite's lifelong isolation: "Look inside, he tells his son, inside is where you are...Don't look, only listen...Stop screaming...They'll find you. Stay still. Listen." How sad to wish that on your son? In addition, it was all a mad jumble of messed up relationships. Without naming too many names, for those of you who have not read it, everyone had a role that wasn't quite right or fully realized: the aunt served as the mother; the friend turned out to be the father; both the son and the father (different father) loved the girl in a sexual way (so wrong!); Lark was more a mother than a sister; and Charlie's mom actually was a monster. Ugh!! I finished this book depressed, angry and somehow feeling dirty. Enough about this book. I'd give it less, but I think it will still be one of those memorable book, so 3 Stars.
RobinDawson on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Given the title I was expecting a family story ¿ to my surprise it opens with a soldier beating an untidy retreat in the Korean war in 1950 ( a war rarely mentioned in fiction). He is wounded and dies. With a touch of magical realism the time of his death coincides with the moment his wife gives birth (to Termite) back in the States. The second and dominant strand of the story takes place over six days in West Virginia in 1959.Lark is a 17 year old girl being raised by her Aunt Nonie. Termite is her 9 year old half brother who cannot walk or talk (?autism?). Their mother Lola, had long ago handed the children into the care of her sister Nonie. As the storm waters sweep through the township the past history of this household is gradually revealed. Strengthened by whay she has learned Lark is able to take wing (!) and flee to ensure Termite's freedom.The writing is beautiful and poetic. It¿s also quite punchy and vigourous ¿ short, tight sentences with sharp, original imagery. To get into the mind of Termite and write that 'voice' must have been very difficult. The only negative for me was the time it took that soldier to die - it just went on and on!. Apart from that I highly recommend this book.
fig2 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Lark and Termite are two characters that will invade you. Lark, a young woman embarking on adulthood, has a sense of self for which most people can only dream. Termite, her younger brother, has a form of autism, yet his inner world is rich, layered and lush. The story of their parents slowly unravels as the novel progresses. Mostly set in a small southern town, Lark & Termite somehow transcends the average "southern lit" novel, by which I mean it becomes a more mainstream story. One character's experience in the Korean War is disturbing, yet fascinating, and may contribute to that transcendence.When Lark faces a crisis alone, she is heartbreaking as she takes on an adult role that is well beyond her years. At the heart of the story is her relationship with Termite, which is a poignant, gorgeous, yet ordinary thing that speaks loudly of real life.Truly wonderful!
Bellettres on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Hard book to get into. Many things I didn't understand. Our book group will be discussing it in a few days, or I probably would not have persevered. Parallel stories, ambiguous (to me) events, and a very dense writing style added to the slowness of the read. Still, it was not a waste of time, and I suspect that I will be thinking about this story for weeks to come.
chrystal on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Unique story, colorful characters. Family bonds are living beings, hard to define, explain and live with. I liked the alternate points of view of each character. I think this book would make a great movie.
Smithish on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Excellent book, wonderful imagery.
jbealy on LibraryThing 8 months ago
As I approached the end of this book, I found myself reading sentences 2 and 3 times in order to prolong the story. It's a beautifully executed tale and one of the best I've read at weaving 2 stories together, separated by years and war, held together with love. Jayne Anne Phillips gives us characters that are so masterfully rendered, they become a part of our world. Highly recommended.
mojomomma on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I didn't enjoy this book until I got half way through it and decided I really needed to read this in one long session. Then I was able to keep the plot in mind as it is told from the perspectives of four characters. Lark and Termite are half-siblings. Although we are never told the exact diagnosis, Termite is a special needs child (spina bifida?) and Lark is a 17-year-old who takes care of them. Both children were given up by their mother and placed in the care of her sister, Nonie. As the story takes place in West Virginia during the last few days of July in 1959, we also read of Termite's father experiences in the Korean War during those same dates in 1950. Sgt. Leavitt's death exactly corresponds with Termite's birth back in the states and Termite himself is foreshadowed by the presence of a Korean boy with similar issues as Termite, who sits with Sgt. Leavitt has he dies in the tunnels of No Gun Ri. A huge flood and the suscipicious death of Nonie's boyfriend's mother convince Lark to take Termite away so that the social workers cannot take Termite away from her.
snash on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A spectacular, haunting book. It's the story of a West Virginian family in the 1950's, of shattered hopes and the amazing resiliency of humans to improvise and find a meaningful life despite all. Besides the compelling plot, the writing is beautiful, sometimes stream of consciousness with jarring, fantastic images.Time, space, and reality are sometimes stretched.
LynnB on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Lark is a 17 year old girl being raised by her Aunt Nonie. Termite is her 9 year old half brother who cannot walk or talk. These three characters provide most of the narrative voice of this beautiful story that takes place over three days in 1959 in a small town in America.Interspersed with their stories is the 1950 story of Termite's father, a young soldier fighting (and dieing) in the Korean war.Through these voices, with a final chapter narrated by Lark and Termite's mother, Lola, we learn the story of an extraordinary family -- including those very close friends, lovers and neighbours -- bound by love, and by acceptance of people for who they are.The writing is simply beautiful and poetic. There are linkages among characters and across time periods that are slowly revealed -- that are almost mystical, but still make sense. The characters are so well drawn, with an almost photographic realness. I think it is the combination of the lyrical mysticism and hard edge reality that has left me contemplating this book and unable to give it away. This is a keeper -- I will read it again.
mckait on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I received this book as an advance reading copy . My first impression was that it was an awkward shape and size. Hopefully this is something that will be different in the actual first printings. I found it uncomfortable to hold, as it seemed much taller than a regular mass market paperback. The first part of the book had a peculiar cadence to the writing. I found it to be uncomfortable to read. I assumed that I would get used to it, but the main body of the book was written in a much more familiar manner. Lark is a very likable character. She is selfless and loving, as well as smart and practical. I liked her. Termite, an amazing and insightful little boy who was physically handicapped, but unfettered emotionally and spiritually.Aunt Nonnie and Charlie and Elise were good people. Simple and practical themselves, they also know all about unconditional love. The same could be said about Lola, and Robert Leavitt, but Lola was also fragile and disturbed.The story moved back and forth from past to present. I was fairly easy to follow as each time period was noted at the top of the chapter. It seemed to me that The ending was rather abrupt and hurried , and left too much of the story unfinished, this is what prevented me from being able to give it four stars. It was an interesting read, but somewhat disappointing to me.
msf59 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A small town in West Virginia, the summer of 1959. This is the setting of Jayne Anne Phillips magnificent new novel, featuring Termite, a physically-challenged boy and Lark, his wonderfully adoring older sister. Lark is one of the great literary creations and her love and her strength ,help this story soar. A dazzling confirmation on the reason I read books and this is a shining example.
Gary10 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Very well written and often sad account of the interconnected lives of a family in West Virginia and their connections connections, including to a soldier in Korea. Action all takes place in the 1950s and the story is told through the eyes of the main characters a chapter at a time so that we sometimes get the same "facts" interpreted by multiple sources. While the plot moves forward from separate voices the whole product works very well as a single narrative. Sometimes heart breaking, sometimes courageous. A family story about a family that in no way resembles our usual image of families and yet includes some of the best and worst characteristics of families.
punxsygal on LibraryThing 8 months ago
It¿s July 1950 and Robert Leavitt lies dying in a cave in South Korea tended by a young Korean woman with a small child. It is, also, July 1959 in Winfield, West Virginia. Lark, a young girl, and her brother, Termite, live with their Aunt Nonie. The book is filled with character descriptions, metaphors, symbols and an intertwining of the two tales, but with very little plot. This book was my first experience with a new face-to-face book club. When I attended I was forty pages shy of the ending of what I considered to be an agonizingly slow book. There was a lot of discussion of what went on and the symbolism to be found. Of the fifteen members of the club, only one liked the book. Oh, maybe this is the club for me after all.
AramisSciant on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Great story told from the point of view of various of the protagonists. Part war story, part coming of age story, what will stay with me most of all is the story of that kind of binding love that ties people no matter what. It has a bit of mystical elements but never felt heavy-handed.
mrstreme on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Allow me to start this review with a confession. I didn't finish Lark and Termite. I tried to, but after reaching the half-way point, I decided to skim my way to the end. Unfortunately, and despite high hopes, I just could not get into this book. After reading other book reviews, I am glad to know I wasn't the only one.Lark and Termite is full of beautiful language and prose. I could never say that Jayne Anne Phillips can't write, because she can, but I think what was missing from this book was the story. For me, it takes more than lyrical language to tell a story - you need something to say, not just the words to utter.There was promise with the characters - Lark, a teenage girl who took care of her handicapped younger brother, Termite. Some of the chapters were told by them , but even their perspectives couldn't help me feel invested in these characters. Nor did I feel much for young Bobby McLeavitt, who was fighting in Korea. I thought I would get wrapped up into their tales, but Phillips just didn't evoke any connection from me for her characters.So, after skimming to the end, I am officially done with Lark and Termite - and ready to move on to other stories.
Opinionated on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I just thought I'd add a positive review in the light of all the negative ones below. I'd read excerpts from this book in various editions of Granta, and its clear Ms Philips has worked on it for a long time. I found it very engaging, loved the voice of Lark and her love for and understanding of her brother, the only real connection to her mother who she, and we, only really glimpse in shadows, through the prejudiced view of others. I also loved the voice of Nonie and her determination to hold her bitsy family together. The book reminded me of the French film "Life is a long quiet river" - although without the humour. Its true that nothing much happens, but in most lives nothing much does after all. Its tone that matters here, tone and characterisation and I found it deeply compelling.The bits that didn't quite gel where the scenes in Korea. I didn't know about the No Gun Ri massacre, and there is certainly a mighty work of fiction to be written about this and other elements of the Korean war. But these episodes felt unconnected to the main storyline and didn't seem to really inform the fate of any of the other characters in anything other than a very general sense.But generally, really enjoyed it. Read Jayne Anne Phillips short story collections "Black Tickets" and "Machine Dreams". Also very very good
valerie2 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
As other reviewers have noted, I found this a fairly difficult book to get into and a rather slow going read. Narrated by a number of different voices, "Lark and Termite" gradually reveals the cicumstances as to why these two children - one severely disabled - come to be living with their Aunt Nonie, rather than their natural mother Lola. Overall, the characters did not ring particularly true for me, and I just didn't feel the "heart" within the story - and for a book predominantly about relationships, and the devastating events that can sometimes shape our lives, you need to need to be able to feel the heart. While I would try another book by this author I won't be recommending Lark and Termite to others - it was just OK.