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Lark & Termite

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  3,477 Ratings  ·  658 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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Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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'
Nov 28, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 31, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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.

Doug Dosdall
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Deena Scintilla
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.
Rebecca McNutt
Set during the 1950's, this nostalgic tale of life in the time of the Korean War is well-written, gripping and incredible.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 05, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  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
Jun 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Mar 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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“Then he's inside you, and your body remembers, each time, every man, even if you try to forget.” 12 likes
“Smoke veils the air like souls in drifting suspension, declining the war's insistence everyone move on.” 5 likes
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