2009 National Book Award Finalist,
Jayne Anne Phillips
Lark and Termite
Alfred A. Knopf
Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading
In language of remarkable precision, this novel of devotion and symbiosis tells the parallel stories of a displaced, preternaturally close brother and sister living in 1959 West Virginia, and of the boy’s father as he comes under fire in wartime Korea in 1950. Elegantly, rigorously, and powerfully written, Lark and Termite is a virtuosic and compassionate gesture.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Jayne Anne Phillips’ first book in nine years, Lark and Termite is set during the 1950s in West Virginia and Korea. At its center, two children: Lark, on the verge of adulthood, and her brother, Termite, a child unable to walk and talk but filled with radiance. Around them, their mother, Lola, a haunting but absent presence; their aunt Nonie, a matronly, vibrant woman in her fifties, who raises them; and Termite’s father, Corporal Robert Leavitt, who finds himself caught up in the chaotic early months of the Korean War. 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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jayne Anne Phillips was born in Buckhannon, West Virginia. She is the author of three novels, MotherKind, Shelter, and Machine Dreams, and two collections of widely anthologized stories, Fast Lanes and Black Tickets. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Bunting Fellowship. She has been awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and an Academy Award in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work has been translated into twelve languages, and has appeared in Granta, Harper's, DoubleTake, and The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. She is currently Professor of English and Director of the MFA Program at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.
Jayne Anne Phillips Offficial Website
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Q&A: Phillips Leads Newark’s New MFA
by Sarah Weinman
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AUDIO - Jayne Anne Phillips' Fractured, Fictional Family
NPR - Weekend Edition Sunday
February 1, 2009
I move his chair into the yard under the tree and then Nonie carries him out. The tree is getting all full of seeds and the pods hang down. Soon enough the seeds will fly through the air and Nonie will have hay fever and want all the windows shut to keep the white puffs out. Termite will want to be outside in the chair all the time then, and he’ll go on and on at me if I try to keep him indoors so I can do the ironing or clean up the dishes. Sun or rain, he wants to be out, early mornings especially. "OK, you’re out," Nonie will say, and he starts his sounds, quiet and satisfied, before she even puts him down. She has on her white uniform to go to work at Charlie’s and she holds Termite out from her a ways, not to get her stockings run with his long toenails or her skirt stained with his fingers because he always has jam on them after breakfast.
"There’s Termite." Nonie puts him in the chair with his legs under him like he always sits. Anybody else’s legs would go to sleep, all day like that. "You keep an eye on him, Lark," Nonie tells me . . .
Termite was pretty when he was a baby. People would coo over him when we walked him in the big carriage. His forehead was real broad and he had blond curls and those blue eyes that move more than normal, like he’s watching something we don’t see. He was so small for his age that Nonie called him a mite, then Termite, because even then he moved his fingers, feeling the air. I think he’s in himself like a termite’s in a wall.
I remember when Termite came. Nonie is his guardian and his aunt, but I’m his sister. In a way he’s more mine than anyone else’s. He’ll be mine for longer, is what Nonie says. Nonie isn’t old but she always says to me about when she’ll be gone. She looks so strong, like a block or a rectangle, strong in her shoulders and her back and her wide hips, even in her legs and their blue veins that she covers up with her stockings. Your mother didn’t bring him, is what Nonie told me, someone brought him for her. Not his father. Nonie says Termite’s father was only married to my mother for a year. He was a baby, Nonie says, twenty-one when my mother was nearly thirty, and those bastards left him over there in Korea. No one even got his body back and they had to have the service around a flag that was folded up. Nonie says it was wrong and it will never be right. But I don’t know how Termite got here because Nonie sent me away that week to church camp. I was nine and had my birthday at camp, and when I came home Termite was here. He was nearly a year old but he couldn’t sit up by himself, and Nonie had him a baby bed and clothes and a high chair with cushions and straps, and she had papers that were signed. She never got a birth certificate though, so we count the day he came his birthday, but I make him a birthday whenever it suits me.
"Today could be a birthday," I tell him.
A longer excerpt can be found here: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog