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Lark & Termite

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  3,815 ratings  ·  698 reviews
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,
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Knopf (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.42  · 
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 ·  3,815 ratings  ·  698 reviews

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Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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's
Nov 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
James Murphy
Feb 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2009-reads, arc
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
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
alana Semuels
Sep 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Ron Charles
Sep 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: special-needs
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
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.

Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.

Dec 31, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 25, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Deena Scintilla
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
I really, really tried to like this book after reading many of the + reviews on Amazon. After getting 1/3 thru, I decided to read the negative reviews and discovered that altho in the minority, there were many who had the same concerns/complaints that I did. I am over 1/2 finished and just can't waste any more time on this book. The story was so promising, but it took Phillips 3 pages or more to get to a point. Many call it lyrical, I call it tedious. ...more
Linda Lipko
Long on the tbr list, I read this never expecting the drama, the sadness, the overwhelming twists. It was a bit overwhelming for me. This is a story that packs a punch -- a nasty one. This is a tale of love, of loss, of birth and death, of the Korean war and it's brutality.

Termite, a baby born with disabilities to a father, (Leavitt) fighting in Korea, hoping and praying to return to his bride Lola who is carrying Termite when Leavitt leaves for the war. Lark is also a child of Lola, father unkn
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
Not my favorite book by a long shot!
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
Jun 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Doug Dosdall
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review is for the audiobook version. A book full of very interesting characters and all in all a very compelling story. I wasn't sure what to make of the many meanders it takes to get there; the scenes in the voice of Termite and those in the voice of Robert while injured and hallucinating are I guess what stopped many reviewers from finishing the book. They certainly weren't my favorite parts but they also weren't meaningless, with many little clues if one listened carefully. Lark was a lo ...more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
This is Jackie's book club pick.

This book apparently won several awards. The author was lauded in NPR interviews on Fresh Air with Maureen Corrigan and Weekend Edition with Liane Hansen. This book also got great reviews from The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

I must be missing something. Except for an excerpt on p.56 which explains the love rectangle among the main characters--Charlie & Nonie, Nonie & Onslow, Onslow & Lola, Lola & Charlie--the whole first 175 pages coul
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
I finished this a few days ago and I just cannot wrap my head around it still. I feel so unsettled by it, so uncomfortable - which strikes me as a little surprising, because it's written almost innocently, set in small town West Virginia. Yet these images keep bubbling up: Lola's boxes in the basement, Solly and Lark and Termite snuggled up like puppies, the blue ribbon Termite loves, the rats skimming the top of the flood.

Read this if you're looking for a dreamy, emotive story to read in hammoc
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I enjoyed the writing and the meditative pace of the novel. I did not always want to move to a different POV with each chapter. My favorite characters were Robert and Lark. The sections of Termite’s POV were at times poetical and others inconsistent with how he saw the world. Lonnie’s POV was to fill in the blanks. I do feel I sometimes lacked the clarity and depth to appreciate all of the symbolism.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Another rec from the Barthleme reading list. I'm not sure if I enjoyed this one tbh. Prose is great at times, if bordering on that haziness that comes from packing every sentence with that all-too-hip floating metaphor shit that I expect from MFA students. The idea itself is fairly interesting, but the conception is lacking. ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story is poetry, the characters swim and dive and twirl. Writing like this is writing for the sake of beautiful words. 10⭐️
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Derek Emerson
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-books-read
Our connections with others are sometimes obvious, but often we are influenced by people we are not aware of or with whom we see little connection. It is as if absence can be a stronger connector than presence, and in the hands of Jayne Anne Phillips, we find those connectors, not just in people but events.

"Lark and Termite" follows two storylines that connect in ways the participants will never see. The story takes place in the 1950s and focuses on Lark, a young woman on the verge of adulthood
Jen Burke
May 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Jayne Anne Phillips is an American novelist and short story writer. Phillips graduated from West Virginia University, earning a B.A. in 1974, and later graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Phillips has held teaching positions at several colleges and universities, including Harvard University, Williams College, and Boston University. She is currently Professor of Engl

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