Thursday, March 4, 2010
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
Phillips' style is reminiscent of Faulkner or Woolf...very stream of consciousness...sort of impressionistic. At the best of times, I felt swept up and carried along by her words...I could smell the freshly cut grass, I could feel the thick, July air, I could hear the pounding rain and the rush of the river. But at the worst of times, I was utterly bored. I didn't know Robert Leavitt well enough to spend fifty pages with him in a tunnel in South Korea as he was dying...the pain, the slipping in and out of consciousness, the flashbacks, the oozing blood, more pain...I found myself, at some points, wishing he'd go ahead and die...just end it.
I really didn't care about any of the characters...Lola, Nonie, Lark, or Termite...as much as I wanted to. I felt disengaged. I don't know if it was the shifthing point of view, or the style, or both...I never felt sad with them or afraid for them...I was just floating along, watching their lives unfold, a distant by-stander...
And that might have been okay if there had been a lot of action. Several times I found myself desperately wishing something would happen...even something tragic. And when certain big events finally transpired...Lark's discovery about her father...the incident with Gladdy at the end of the book...the characters themselves didn't have much of a reaction. They seemed muted and far away...those moments, anti-climatic.
Ulimately, Phillips did an incredible job evoking time and place. The setting, atmosphere, and mood were vivid...early 1950's, small town West Virginia, the Korean war...I could see it, hear it, smell it, taste it. At times her descriptions, her word choice, felt perfect. (i.e. Today is Sunday. Nick Tucci will run his push mower along the alley, to keep the weeds down. He does it after dusk...and the grass smells like one sharp green thread sliced open.) But beyond that?
There was enough to the story and the characters to keep me reading, hoping, and expecting...but I'm not sure it paid off in the end.