Lark and Termite

Jayne Anne Phillips astonished readers with her prodigious first book of short stories, Black Tickets (1979), and her masterful Vietnam-era novel, Machine Dreams. She returns full blast with her sixth work of fiction, a novel that explores how casualties of the Korean War reverberate through a patched-together West Virginia family. Lark and Termite carries clear Faulknerian lineage: Like The Sound and the Fury, its story is told, in language laced with idiosyncrasies, by a quartet of distinctive voices, one of whom, like Faulkner's Benjy, is mentally limited but gifted with a special interior vision. But it's Phillips's fluid and original prose and her imaginative virtuosity that put her in the same league with her southern forebear. The four storytelling voices in Lark and Termite are exquisitely balanced. Corporal Robert Leavitt's tale of war focuses on several days in July 1950, when, mortally wounded by his own forces, he is pinned down with a group of Korean refugees in a railroad tunnel at No Gun Ri. The other narratives are set in July 1959, as a big storm bears down on Winfield, West Virginia. Leavitt's son Termite, born while his father is fighting in Korea, has hydrocephaly and cannot speak or walk. His perceptions are conveyed in intense flashes of poetic brilliance. Termite's stepsister Lark, his major caretaker, is feisty and capable, with a palpable sensuality. Their aunt Nonie, who carries the family's secrets, adds a note of adult realism to the precarious situation in which the orphans find themselves, with Social Services aiming to separate them. As the novel unfolds, and the monstrous storm floods the town, the central figure of mystery becomes Lola, Nonie's rebellious sister, the seductive wife Robert Leavitt yearns for as he lies dying, the mother Lark and Termite can only conjure from hand-me-downs and shards of memory. Lola's story, and theirs, converge in this emotionally complex and deeply rewarding novel.

April 16: ""Blue pottery vases and bowls for flowers are most attractive, and certain blue books...will repeat and emphasize color."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.