Lark and Termite
by Jayne Anne Phillips
The central characters in Jayne Anne Phillips’ “piercing” new novel are apt to “take up permanent residence” in many readers’ minds, said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. In small-town West Virginia, 17-year-old Lark and her developmentally disabled 9-year-old half-brother, Termite, are bracing for a flood when Lark begins puzzling out why their mother chose to abandon them. It’s a wonder that the book never devolves into soap opera, particularly because their story is interlaced with flashbacks to 1950 North Korea, where Termite’s father witnessed a famous massacre of civilians. Phillips, author of the “classic” 1984 novel Machine Dreams, “knows her characters so intimately and tackles their stories with such ferocity” that Lark and Termite instead “ascends into the higher, more rarefied altitudes of fable.” Much of the novel has been patterned after William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, said Lorraine Adams in Bookforum. Yet by giving Lark and other female characters the story’s dominant voices, Phillips “reinvigorates and transforms” her borrowed infrastructure. In essence, she has rediscovered and memorialized “the nobility of Appalachia, of Korean refugees, of the least of us.”
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How to be the star of a cocktail party where you don't know anyone
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- California's epic drought
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Peter Thiel, and the not-so-secret secret of innovative success
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
Subscribe to the Week