Monday, January 18, 2010

Lark and Termite

Sometimes my friend Andea and I question our ability to read deeply. This often happens at the end of a formal book discussion at the library in which the women who participate arrive with sheaves of notes and evidence of such care in their reading that we feel inadequate to even be threre. Andrea says that she just gets out of the way and I like that analysis. Perhaps that's all we're supposed to do as facilitators.

So, if there's anyone out there who's read Jayne Anne Philips' Lark and Termite, considered by most review journals to be one of the best novels of 2009, I hope you'll help me. This uniquely written novel left me just staring at the last page wondering what I had missed along the way. I'm still not sure if the ending meant what I thought it did even though I was pleased with it.

I must admit that the Korean War is a very weak area of my knowledge base and it seems we didn't learn much more about it in school. I wasn't expecting the novel to tie into an incident that I've now learned was rather controversial that happened back in 1950 in a lonely tunnel at No Gun Ri in South Korea. The tragedies of war never seem to change, do they? And no matter what war it is, people of different cultures and languages will misconstrue an order or an intention and innocent people will die. What exactly happened in that tunnel I;m still unsure of but Phillips keeps the novel going back and forth from No Gun Ri to a small town in West Virginia several years later where Nonie, a woman of enormous generosity of spirit, is raising her sister;'s two children, Lark and Termite.

Lark is a glorious, bright, funny character-almost too good to be true. A nurturer, she loves and cares for her half-brother, little Termite who is confined to a wagon or wheelchair because of severe birth defects. Each characters thoughts and feelings are there for the reader to take in and interpret. They come across as honest and true and, as the story unfolds, we gradually learn about the relationship between Nonie and her younger sister and how Nonie has come to bear this burden of love that she carries and shares with Charlie, her lover, partner, employer and friend.

This is a sohpisticated novel that cries out for that deeper, reread that we often do for our book discussions and I feel as though I;ve barely tapped the surface of it. So, readers out there, if you've read this book and have opinions or ideas you'd like to share, I'd so enjoy hearing from you while I move on to my upcoming book discussion choice, The City of Refuge by Tom Piazza. A look at the run up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina through the lives of two very disparate couples and circumstances, this discussion will sadly be even more apt in light of the unspeakable tragedy unfolding before us right now in Port au Prince.


dschirtzfl said...

I was surprised at the strength of The City of Refuge; doubt if I could have read it soon after Hurricane Katrina.

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