Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

A sister and a brother live with the loss of their mother in 1950's West Virginia

This novel is really two entwined stories – a young soldier trapped in a tunnel during the Korean War and the evocatively written story of two siblings, one an adolescent girl, then other a brain damaged boy. The value of the book comes from the vivid descriptions of the small town and the friends and family and the quite moving love they have for each other. As more details of the town and the characters and their history accumulate, especially from the distinctive points of view of the siblings, the power of the book grows. There’s a flood scene that gets quite gripping, reminding me of something fantastical, like from the Wizard of Oz. However, the reader must make an effort to continue near the beginning as the Korean battle scenes feel repetitive (at least to me) and therefore boring. Overall, there are long stretches of beautiful set pieces occasionally held together by clunky exposition. I really liked a lot of the descriptions of the landscape – a field of grass, a ditch. However, the ending feels tacked on and not believable. Also, there’s an albino ghost popping in occasionally – not sure what he adds.

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