Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lark and Termite

I have my students doing an independent reading project right now, so I've been reading with them. We call that modeling in the teaching world. This has allowed me to get a lot of reading done the past couple weeks. When we started, I brought in the book I was reading at home, Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips.

I'd call this a family secrets novel, akin to Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, but with a gothic feel. Phillips starts us in 1950, with the story of Robert Leavitt, Termite's father. Leavitt is a soldier in the Korean War, caught in an awful situation, and his story unravels throughout the novel to its tragic end. From Korea, Phillips takes us to West Virginia in 1959. Lark and Termite are siblings being raised by their Aunt Nonie, their lives haunted by the absence of their mother, Lola. These story lines are expertly woven together, creating an emotional crescendo, no small feat.

Lark and Termite was a National Book Award finalist, and with good reason, Phillips is clearly a master. While I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to others, I did find the writing a bit forced in places, almost like Phillips was trying to be literary. It's not a deal-breaker, just a thought.

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