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Lark and Termite (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – January 12, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. From Phillip's (Motherkind; Shelter) comes a long-awaited and wonderful coming-of-age tale of grief and survival. The story straddles a parallel six-day period in July, one in 1959—during which 17-year-old Lark; her brother, Termite, who cant talk; and their aunt and caretaker, Nonie, are struggling to balance hope and despair in smalltown West Virginia—and nine years earlier, when Termites father, Robert Leavitt, serves a tour in Korea. Lark, living with her aunt without knowing who her father is or why her mother gave her up, was nine years old when baby Termite landed on their doorstep. Nonie works long hours at a local restaurant to support the hodgepodge family, leaving Lark to take over mothering duties, but as Lark finishes secretarial school and realizes how limited the options are for her and Termite, forces of nature and odd individuals shed light on mysteries of the past and lend a hand in steering the next course of action. Through Robert and Nonie's stories and by exposing the innermost thoughts of each character, Phillips creates a wrenching portrait of devotion while keeping the suspense at a palpitating level. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This poetic novel alternates between the last hours of Robert Leavitt, a corporal in the U.S. Army, pinned down in a tunnel in South Korea, in 1950, and the story of his disabled son, Termite, who, nine years later, is living with his half sister, Lark, and their aunt in West Virginia. Lark knows little of her mother and even less of her father, and pours herself into nurturing Termite, whose stunted body and lack of language has Social Services perpetually threatening to take him away. The appearance of a sympathetic social worker marks the beginning of a great fracture in their lives, which culminates in a flood that reveals the past and makes way for a new future. Phillips gives each scene an evocative, often lyrical description, but the mystical elements of the story and the improbable ending undermine an otherwise moving exploration of familial love.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701931
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #779,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Chris Owens on January 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In a time when fiction seems to be lost amid memoirs and non-fiction, and chick-lit, this is a refreshing read. Crisp, magical, satisfyingly psychological - this novel spans great distances and time periods to effectively reveal a deeper message. The prose is rich and beautiful, but doesn't outshine the wonderful characters. Set in West Virginia and Korea, Lark and Termite is full of rich symbolism, character, and most of all - story. Surely, Lark and Termite is for the savvy reader - although this isn't to say this novel shouldn't be taken to the beach, or on a plane, and read leisurely (as I did). This is a well paced read with big pay-off, and will be sure to please those seeking a great literary escape. Phillips captures another time and place, and does so with conviction. I'd imagine this will be one of the best offerings of the year and will be up for some major awards. Five stars, easily.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Dana Jo on December 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thank you so much for creating and publishing this book. I have been an "avid fan" of very few things, but I am a true fan of your father's books. I cried when he died in 08, not only that he had died, but, I realized, Chee and Leaphorn had died too. I love the great expanse of the southwest, and your book has made me realize that it is the land that lasts "forever" (at least, "forever" in human terms!). The book is also serving as a gentle closure to all his other books. I have them to reread, as I have done several times in the past, but I will always long to have one more new Hillerman mystery to relish as I begin reading it! Ah, well, life goes on. I am so glad your Dad wrote so many novels, and I thank you for adding a new perspective to them, and taking me back to the earth, which is their basis.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By S. Michael Bowen on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Three-quarters of the way through Jayne Anne Phillips' poetic novel, I acknowledged the beauty of her prose but wondered if there'd be a payoff. An hour or so later, *Lark and Termite* had become a page-turner that reduced me to tears.
Like *Machine Dreams,* the novel of a quarter-century ago that made Phillips a literary sensation, *Lark and Termite* tells about a family from the inside, from multiple perspectives.
There's the husband, a soldier implicated in the massacre at No Gun Ri, the Korean War's precursor to Vietnam's My Lai; his wife, an older woman who was attracted to how well Bobby Leavitt blew his trumpet in smoky jazz clubs; her sister, slaving as a waitress in a small-town diner and caring for the two title characters.
Lark -- 17, self-reliant, sexually awakening -- is typing her way through secretarial school with a determined look on her face. She's completely devoted to her 9-year-old brother. Termite is "a boy in a deep wagon, eyes hard to the side and head tilted, fingers up and moving ... [who] hums in a quiet tonal code that stops and starts." He's "in himself," Lark says, "like a termite's in a wall."
For Termite was born with hydrocephalus, and small-town Appalachia in 1959 wasn't especially well equipped to serve a special-needs child (though Phillips, typically, turns even bureaucracy into magic, transforming a social services worker into an otherworldly symbol).
By crafting parallels between events at two railroad tunnels separated by nine years and geography (one in Korea, one in West Virginia), Phillips' novel suggests unexplained glimmers of a spiritual world hovering above our own. But she roots her mysticism in reality, as in this description of what it's like to drift toward death: "Abruptly, a shutter falls. Sounds diminish and recede.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Northern Trails on December 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was really excited to get this book, especially after reading the reviews here. When it came, though, I was really disappointed because so many (most, really) of the photos are dark and muddy... not just "moody" with dark shadows, but genuinely poor reproduction that is dark throughout all the ranges. They just look muddy, and much of the detail--which I am sure was in the digital originals--is just gone. Maybe I got a poorly printed copy; I ordered it online and did not see it until it came. Had I picked it up at a bookstore and flipped through it, I would never have bought it because of the printing quality. Too bad, because it is an interesting book, and I've enjoyed reading what I have so far. But I was looking for a coffee-table type photo book, and this sure did not meet my expectations.

I used to be a print buyer, by the way, so I do understand how poor printing (or separations, whatever) can affect the outcome of a book. If this one had better reproduction, it would have been delightful.
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Format: Hardcover
Thirty years along in a literary career with a modest-sized body of work to her credit, it's fair to ask whether Jayne Anne Phillips has fully realized the potential displayed in her dazzling 1979 debut short story collection, BLACK TICKETS. With the publication of her latest novel, her first in nine years, there is a good chance she will silence any doubters and will leave all of us hungering for more of her distinctive voice.

LARK AND TERMITE is a family drama set in the 1950s in an unlikely pairing of locations --- a dying West Virginia town and a battlefield in the early days of the Korean War. The novel is built upon four interconnected points of view: 17-year-old Lark, attending secretarial school in the town of Winfield and sensing the pull of the wider world; her disabled "minimally hydrocephalic" nine-year-old brother Termite, whose stream of consciousness pours onto the page in a voiceless swirl of images and sounds; their Aunt Nonie, who has been left to care for both children after they're deposited with her by her younger sister, Lola, a sometimes lounge singer who is irresistibly attractive to men and disastrously incapable of dealing with the consequences of that fact; and Corporal Robert Leavitt, Termite's father, a jazz musician and young soldier from Philadelphia whose platoon accompanies South Korean villagers fleeing the North Korean onslaught.

Basing the grimly realistic Korean segments of the novel on accounts of the massacre of South Korean civilians by American troops at No Gun Ri, Phillips movingly describes the last days of Leavitt, mortally wounded by friendly fire and pinned down in an abandoned railroad tunnel, where he has sought refuge to escape strafing from North Korean aircraft.
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