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Lark & Termite
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Lark & Termite

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  2,960 ratings  ·  609 reviews
A rich, many-layered novel from one of our major writers, her first in nine years.

Set in 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: Lark and her brother, Termite, a child unable to walk an
ebook, 272 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Vintage (first published 2009)
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4 and 1/2 stars

As I neared the end, I found that the pace of my reading had slowed down; I didn't want the book to end; I didn't want to leave these characters or this writing. Phillips writes like a dream, as the expression goes.

I thought the chapters 'narrated' by Termite (a boy who can't talk or walk) especially fine. At first, I thought of Benjy in "The Sound and the Fury," but make no mistake about it, Termite is Phillips' own character and needs no comparison to any other. At times, Lark'
this is a haunting, beautiful book. i wasn't sold on the plot when i read the reviews: it follows the stories of a soldier in Korea, his disabled young son back in the States, the little boy's half-sister, and their aunt. the "action" of the novel occurs within a 2 day span (if you don't count a 9 year jump between the worlds of the soldier and his son), but it's incredible how much happens in that time. phillips is an extraordinary writer, and the sensory images she evokes create a sense of imm ...more
This is the kind of book in which I tend to completely immerse myself. I was moved on so many levels. Two stories run side by side - a corporal trapped in a tunnel in Korea, and the story of Lark, a young girl coming of age, taking care of her half-brother, the corporal's son, in a West Virginia town way past its hey day. Termite is special with disabilities but also with the acute ability to see and hear in a different way. As the reader enters the hearts and minds of each character it is oh so ...more
I had to abandoned this book. After about 60 pages, I just couldn't keep going. The poetic flow of the story was so abstract that I was left in a dreamy haze often wondering what exactly was going on. I don't mind poetry style prose as long as they are grounded in something concrete to give it a real place in time. A scene here or there, sure I'll go along with, but page after page and character after character all thinking and talking in abstract thoughts and images just worked to totally alien ...more
James Murphy
What's going on here? Even though the reader can tell he's in the hands of a gifted novelist, especially if he has previous Jayne Anne Phillips experience, he might ask this question before allowimg himself to sink into her narrative, confident she'll get him to the end safely and satisfactorily. And she does.

Lark and Termite is a novel told in 2 narrative threads. There's a thread beginning July 26, 1950 in which a U. S. Army soldier fighting in Korea, his unit retreating before the overwhelmin
This was on the library's new book shelf and had endorsement quotes from interesting contemporary authors (though the Junot Diaz one gave me pause, considering how I felt about the excessive hipsterness of Oscar Wao) so I picked it up. Ultimately, the author tried to take on too much and ended up with a mediocre result.

Challenging elements: period piece set in the 50s, dying man narrative, profoundly autistic (or otherwise locked in) character with first person passages, and the supernatural . T
A pretty awesome book, all told... There's an awful lot of beautiful writing in this book, and its not merely limited to those sections that capture the POV of Termite, who is sort of the Benjy or this books attempt to rewrite Sound and the Fury. I'm not sure it's as worked out as S and F, which is fine by me-- the drifting prose style seems less to change from character to character than to be more or less present-- but the writing is frightfully pretty, and in some cases reminded me as much of ...more
alana Semuels
I read this for a book club that never ended up meeting. So I SHOULD be frustrated that I read it for nothing. But. I am not. Because if I had not been reading it for a book club, I likely would have thrown it against a wall 30 pages in and said "i give up! shifting perspectives, a mentally challenged youth, and endless scenes in a korean tunnel. who cares!?"

but instead, i powered forward, thinking if i didn't finish it, book club would mock me. and i am glad i did. because the last third of th
I liked the structure of this book, the way the story evolves in successive tellings by Termite's father, Corp. Robert Leavitt, in Korea in 1950, and by young Lark, in 1959, as well as by Lark's aunt, Nonie, Termite himself, and finally Lark and Termite's mother, Lola. It's a complicated family story that Lark only unravels at the end.
But despite the period details, the strongly drawn characters and the evocative atmosphere, the story didn't really get going for me until about two thirds of the
switterbug (Betsey)
A promising start. It didn't fully engage me, but it pre-engaged me. Enough to trudge on with Corporal Robert Leavitt through Korean villages, as memories of his pregnant wife, Lola, flooded him. There were even flavors of Tim O'Brien and Mailer--a hint, a possibility, a soft lure.

As Leavitt advanced with the story, it began to get soggy. And I am not referring to the terrain in Korea. Rather than some critics' accolades describing the novel as "elegant and mystical," I experienced it as rather
Not My Cup of Tea; But Recommended For Some

Let me start by saying that this is one of those times when I dislike assigning star ratings to reviews. That being said, and this being a non-professional, completely consumer review, I had to give it two stars. This book, as the title of this review suggests, was not my cup of tea; however, I would not encourage people to shy away from this book. In fact, once it is published and released, I intend to recommend it to my mother.

I was unable to finish t
I love characters like Lark. Young females who are smart and thoughtful and deeply interesting on the inside and come across as either timid or strange on the outside. Lark reminds me of Francie (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) or several McCullers characters (Frankie in The Member of the Wedding, Mick in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter). Characters like these remind me of myself in some ways - not their experiences, but the ways they think and what's important to them.

Stylistically, this book is stunni
I did it!!! It only took me a month to get through it, but I finished! I know, I should heed my own advice and should have put it down by page 50. But out of respect for my book group, I wanted to finish this to see if my opinion of it might change, post-book group discussion. And while I have a greater appreciation for the book, I still felt it was too slow. Just not my cup of tea, I guess. The Termite chapters kind of drove me crazy -- too much impressionism, and I'm not sure I really "got" wh ...more
I have this feeling that "beautifully written" really means that I can't understand it without the aid of a read-between-the-lines-ist.

The general story line is clear enough, but the feelings or thoughts of the characters were often expressed in some form of prose like a Joni Mitchell song. I have a sense of your mood here, but what? What did you just say?

There's the mood about how everyone loves Termite so much, but why, really? Tell me so I get it. I don't walk away from this loving him.

This is one of those books where the starred ratings don't really work for me. There are many things to appreciate in this book. The writing is phenomenal. The structure is fascinating. There are many things about it that would be great to discuss in a book club.

But...I didn't love reading it. As technically lovely as it was, it never really captivated me. The story centers around Lark, a teenage girl in 1950s West Virginia, and her younger half brother, Termite. Termite doesn't speak or walk, a
May 07, 2010 dara rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to dara by: Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, Tim O'Brien
It had a promising start, but I was glad to be done with it. That in itself isn't a good sign since it's a relatively short book (under 300 pages), but felt much longer. Other than the soldier's perspective (and geez, it really gets drawn out), the novel doesn't feel like it is set in the 1950s.

The format--switching back and forth between different character POVs every few pages--felt a bit worn out thanks to having recently read Bloodroot. There are so many times when it became unbearably redu
This is a wonderful book, and VERY close to receiving 5 stars. There were just a couple of things that bothered me enough to drop it down to 4 (if only there were a 4.75 button!). More on those in a moment...

First, the good stuff: I love the rotating points of view and hearing about things from different characters' perspectives. And one of these POVs is that of a severely developmentally disabled boy. I haven't seen this pulled off quite the same way. I thought, for the most part, it really wor
There are few contemporary American authors I look forward to reading quite as much as I do new novel by Jayne Anne Phillips (even when her latest sits in the to-read pile for an awfully long time), and the decade or so between the marvellous Motherkind and this has been well worth it; she is the queen of contemporary Southern Literary Gothic, a Flannery O’Connor/Carson McCullers/Eudora Welty/Harper Lee for the new millennium. As with each of these fine practitioners of Southern Gothic, she does ...more
This book was well above average, but not stellar. It is a jigsaw puzzle. Throughout pieces are given and the reader needs to fit them in. Suspense is driven by lack of information. The characters are well developed. The most intriguing challenge Phillips took on was revealing a special needs child's mind. Termite is minimally hydrocephalic, visually impaired, has spina bifida, and other problems. He does, however, have extremely acute hearing, and acute sense of smell to a lesser extent. The st ...more
Ron Charles
There are books you recommend to everybody, and then there are books you share cautiously, even protectively. Jayne Anne Phillips's "Lark and Termite" is that second kind, a mysterious, affecting novel you'll want to talk about only with others who have fallen under its spell. On the surface, nothing about the West Virginia family in "Lark and Termite" seems especially noteworthy, except perhaps the consistency of their misfortune, but the author reveals their tangled secrets in such a profound ...more
This is the story of Lark and Termite, and the mystery of what happened to their mother and respective fathers. Lark is 17 and on the verge of finding her place in the world. Termite is her half-brother who can't walk, doesn't really talk, and can't see well. Phillips lets us peek into his consiousnous however and we realize he may see and know more than most. Lark takes care of her brother with a tenderness and understanding that is at once tender and hoepeful. They both live with their aunt No ...more
Told alternately from the perspective of Lark, a young girl in rural West Virginia, and Robert Leavitt, a young soldier in South Korea in 1950s, and occasionally from Lark's brother, Termite, a young disabled boy. The care of Termite often falls to Lark, although there is more of a sense of the two being joined at the hip than Lark resenting the "chore" of looking after Termite.

I wasn't familiar with Jayne Anne Phillips prior to reading Lark and Termite, but I now plan on reading more of her.

Kathy McC
I looked at several "Best Books of 2009" lists and this novel appeared on 4 of them. It is haunting and evokes some powerful emotions. It is the story of two siblings and their aunt who live in W. Virginia in the late 1950s. It is also the story of the mother who abandoned them and Termite's father who was a soldier in the Korean war.
As I read the first 1/3 of the book, I couldn't figure out why this book had been given so many high reviews. But then the characters began to grow on me. The end
If you've ever lived with anyone who is differently abled like Termite, then you will have strong feelings about this book. What one person can sense across miles, continents and time is not something others can necessarily understand. But the bonds of love move these characters beyond normal limitations.

Lark is going to understand herself, her brother, her aunt, her mother and the men in her mother's life as she seeks to define her future. What unfolds as the characters tell their stories and
Lark and Termite is a deceptively simple tale (or tales); one strand of the narrative is set in 1950, as Robert Leavitt, a young US Army enlisted man, endures the confusion and terror of the first days of the Korean War. The other, larger part of the narrative is set nine years later in a small West Virginia town, where Lark, a teenaged girl, cares for her handicapped half-brother, nicknamed Termite.

Out of this, Jayne Anne Philipps has created one of the most compelling and beautiful novels I h
I liked this book okay, although I don't think I share the exuberance of most reviews I've read. The book moves back and forth by chapter from the past to the present. One chapter, you are in Korea with the father of Termite; next chapter you might be in the mother's life; sometimes you are with Lark and Termite, Lark being an older girl who takes care of her disabled brother, Termite. This kind of jumping around isn't my favorite modality, so that is part of what I wasn't too excited about. Als ...more
Ann Klefstad
I loved it, but am discovering through it some inkling of the way what I love in stories works. And that's a bit troubling. The most gorgeously arresting portions of this work, for me, are perhaps the ones that strip out a certain layer of experience-in-time most precisely. That is, they are highly fabricated . . . and this poses the question then of what is driving the fabricating urge. Why this layer and not another? Why is what is left out left out? Finally then, why do we make the stories we ...more
Candace Burton
I hated this book. I could barely stand to finish it and hurried through it only because I felt guilty for not seeing it through. It was well-written, well-crafted, and I suppose creatively drawn. But I am one of those insane bibliophiles who detests Faulkner, and this just read like a rehash of _The Sound and the Fury_. You can map the characters right onto their counterparts. Possibly having read that made me just anticipate the worst for everyone in this book, and it more or less comes out th ...more
MK Francisco
I'm all about experimental, stream of consciousness and non-linear, quirky writing. I even have a high tolerance for artifice and occasionally overwrought, poetic writing (ham-fisted symbolism not so much). As a re-visioning of the sound and the fury (at least structurally), I was surprised by how many cliches she packed into her characters: the torch singer with a heart of gold/the soldier so pure and respectful, he just wanted prostitutes to share their culture with him/the smart perfect girl ...more
May 08, 2009 Maggie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves character-driven fiction
Recommended to Maggie by: Many at
An amazing book. Told through the minds of 5 characters, over four days in July, and in 3 different years. All of that sounds like it would be very confusing, but Phillips has absolute control of her subject and characters, all of whom you grow to love (or, in one particular case, not) and the reader is along for a wonderful ride. Leavitt is the soldier and father of Termite, Lola is his wife and mother of both Lark and Termite, Nonie is Lola's sister, Lark is the 17-year-old daughter, and Termi ...more
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Around the World ...: Discussion for Lark and Termite 7 31 Jul 17, 2012 08:59PM  
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“Then he's inside you, and your body remembers, each time, every man, even if you try to forget.” 5 likes
“Smoke veils the air like souls in drifting suspension, declining the war's insistence everyone move on.” 3 likes
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