Friday, February 27, 2009

Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips - Novel, 2009

Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips-Novel, 2009
Clayton Kent Lowe

An astounding novel that reaches deep into the wellsprings of the
human heart, Jayne Phillips's Lark and Termite is one of the most
poetic novels I've read in years.

The structure of the novel is elegant and deceptively simple. The
action takes place in two widely separated locations. The first on a
battlefield in Korea. The second, in the small town of Winfield,
West Virginia. The events taking place are also seperated by nine
years of time.

Set in a battle zone somewhere in Korea in 1950, Corporal Robert
Leavitt reflects back on the story of his boyhood on the streets of
Philadelphia; his meeting with Lola; and his awareness that she is now
carrying their soon to be born son Termite. His last moments in life
are tragic, but heroic.

The novel then flashes ahead nine years in time to Winfield, West
Virginia where Termite-who was born handicapped- now lives with his
seventeen year old half-sister Lark, and his mother's sister Aunt
Nonie. What happened to their mother has not yet been revealed, nor
has the identity of the man who was Lark's father. There are more
mysteries yet to come.

Mythic in theme and substance (for instance, the father dies the same
moment his son is born); the characters tell their own stories using
words that appeal more to the senses than to the mind.

Termite himself, who was born nearly blind and can't walk, has to
express his view of the world through the sounds of words rather than
their articulate meanings.

Lark , who spends the most time with her little brother, attempts to
explain that: "(he) . . . remembers cadences of songs and rhymes, like
he recognizes sounds, not words." And then goes on to further
explain: "He doesn't need words. He needs his strip of blue and the
space under the rail bridge by the river. He needs to see the river
while the train roars over top."

Coming to a climax when a great flood hits the town-that's for these
folk, Biblical in proportion- the disperate threads of the story are
finally rewoven together and the novelist reveals, in her own poetic
way, how her characters come to accept the fragilities of what it means to become truly human.

A deeply moving reading experience, this novel will remind you how important it is to never lose your sense of wonder.