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Lark and Termite

Jayne Anne Phillips’s new novel is a rich, deeply poetic tale of extraordinary familial love.

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Few things raise my hackles faster than a magical disabled character. (Well, there’s that mystical bond between twins, but that might just be a bad “Sweet Valley High” backlash from the 1980s.)

Jayne Anne Phillips has not one but two such characters in her new novel Lark and Termite, both cared for by brave and selfless older sisters. So when I say that the book has as much poetry as a graduate seminar on John Donne, believe me, this is despite heavy initial resistance on my part.

The novel is split between two weekends in July nine years apart. In 1950, Cpl. Robert Leavitt struggles in the chaos at the beginning of the Korean War. One of only three members of his original group left, Robert keeps getting promoted by dint of staying alive.

“Taejon had fallen. Eighty thousand Republic of Korea soldiers had simply taken off their uniforms and disappeared, dressed in white, and joined the southward flow of refugees. Numerous American kids would have done the same if white clothes had offered any protection. Instead they fled while they could walk, leaving M1s and Browning automatics too heavy to carry.”

As Robert finds himself trapped in the No Gun Ri massacre, he desperately tries to hang on to memories of his pregnant wife, who’s in labor back in the US.


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