Lark and Termite: Book summary and reviews of Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

Lark and Termite

By Jayne Anne Phillips

Lark and Termite
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2009,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

A rich, wonderfully alive novel from one of our most admired and best-loved writers, her first book in nine years. Lark and Termite is set during the 1950s in West Virginia and Korea. It is a story of the power of loss and love, the echoing ramifications of war, family secrets, dreams and ghosts, and the unseen, almost magical bonds that unite and sustain us.

At its center, two children: Lark, on the verge of adulthood, and her brother, Termite, a child unable to walk and talk but filled with radiance. Around them, their mother, Lola, a haunting but absent presence; their aunt Nonie, a matronly, vibrant woman in her fifties, who raises them; and Termite’s father, Corporal Robert Leavitt, who finds himself caught up in the chaotic early months of the Korean War.

Told with deep feeling, the novel invites us to enter into the hearts and thoughts of the leading characters, even into Termite’s intricate, shuttered consciousness. We are with Leavitt, trapped by friendly fire alongside the Korean children he tries to rescue. We see Lark’s dreams for Termite and her own future, and how, with the aid of a childhood love and a spectral social worker, she makes them happen. We learn of Lola’s love for her soldier husband and her children, and unravel the mystery of her relationship with Nonie. We discover the lasting connections between past and future on the night the town experiences an overwhelming flood, and we follow Lark and Termite as their lives are changed forever.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
"Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips, has received rave reviews from multiple sources, and there are a number of good reasons for such high praise.  The novel is quite engaging, with original characters in interesting circumstances.  The author evokes the perfect sense of time and place throughout the parallel story lines.  Perhaps most apropos to literary critiques, much of Phillips’ writing is simply beautiful.   There are sections that are positively brilliant. 

Unfortunately, Phillips’ writing frequently shifts from dazzling to incomprehensible.  The style becomes overly distracting, limiting the reader's ability to relax and enjoy the novel.   As each character narrates his or her point of view, their perspectives shift between present and past, with few clues indicating events happened at different times.  At some points the narrative is first person, at others it’s third person.  Sentences are inconsistently italicized, sometimes to indicate the past, sometimes emphasizing another train of thought, further confusing matters. The book's parallels and symbolism are clumsy and may strike the reader as contrived.    Finally, some of the plot elements are overly theatrical and, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, nonsensical.

Some readers may find the moments of luminescent writing enough to justify their perusal of this novel. I suspect that most, however, will find the flaws overwhelming." - Kim Kovacs.


Other Reviews
"Starred Review. Phillips creates a wrenching portrait of devotion while keeping the suspense at a palpitating level." - Publishers Weekly.

"[A] poignant story with broad reader appeal." - Library Journal.

"Jayne Anne Phillips’s intricate, deeply felt new novel reverberates with echoes of Faulkner, Woolf, Kerouac, McCullers and Michael Herr’s war reporting, and yet it fuses all these wildly disparate influences into something incandescent and utterly original." - New York Times, Michiko Kakutani.

"Lark and Termite is a true work of art, literature that makes other contemporary novels seem flat by contrast, and that seems destined to last, on bookshelves and in readers’ hearts. … A deeply satisfying story comes together slowly, in confessions and omissions, as the mysteries of the past are filled in and the promise of the future unfolds." - San Francisco Chronicle, Malena Watrous.

"Secrets, and their rate of revelation, are among an author’s most treasured tools, and while Lark and Termite contains enough mysteries to satisfy discriminating readers (Who is Lark’s father? Is Nonie a murderer? Will Bobby survive a massacre in Korea?), Jayne Anne Phillips unspools them leisurely, allowing for full immersion in the evocative prose that marks her work. … Not the perfect choice for devotees of fast-paced thrillers, Lark and Termite offers substantial rewards for readers who value passages of gorgeous, intelligent writing with intricate literary architecture." - Boston Globe, Perrin Ireland.

"Such is the Faulkner-esque setup for Jayne Anne Phillips’ much-awaited and poignant novel Lark & Termite, a tale with a Southern Gothic flair, startlingly alive language and the intensity of four narrators, each of whom must depend on personal endurance and fierce loyalties to rise above a knot of family secrets and misfortunes when the past finally comes knocking on the door." - Oregonian, Debra Gwartney.

"It is an almost mystical interweaving of two very different places and times, and an original examination of the strange durability of family ties. … Ms. Phillips makes the occasional stumble into melodrama, but such lapses are offset by her ability to make psychological sense of the world she has created and by the ease with which she captures feelings, sounds and sights in a few well-chosen words." - Wall Street Journal, Brooke Allen.

"Most of this novel is riveting and moving, but the author falters at the end where she awkwardly announces what she intends for one persistent and unclear motif to mean. … In this novel about sibling love set in the 1950s, Lark’s pragmatism, clear-eyed love and determination to hold on to her brother are strikingly fresh and heroic." - Seattle Times, Wingate Packard.

The information about Lark and Termite shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Jayne Anne Phillips Author Biography

Jayne Anne Phillips is the author of Lark and Termite, Motherkind, Shelter, Machine Dreams and Quiet Dell, and the widely anthologized collections of stories, Fast Lanes and Black Tickets. A National Book Award and National Book Critic's Circle Award finalist, Phillips is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Bunting Fellowship, the Sue Kaufman Prize, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She is currently Professor of English and Director of the MFA Program at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, where she established The Writers At Newark Reading Series. Information, essays and text source photographs on her fiction can be viewed at JayneAnnePhillips.com. She ...

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