Obviously, I’m a bit biased. Jayne Anne Phillips is the director of the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark. I happen to be a student in said program. Even so, I have to take a moment and let ya’ll know how much I am loving this book. (Present progressive tense because I’m about 75% of way through the book.)
In my humble opinion, her novel looks William Faulkner dead in the eye and promises to be a worthy rival. And to prove that I’m not entirely off the mark, feel free to read what “established critics” have to say.
Jayne Anne Phillips’s intricate, deeply felt new novel reverberates with echoes of Faulkner, Woolf, Kerouac, McCullers and Michael Herr’s war reporting, and yet it fuses all these wildly disparate influences into something incandescent and utterly original.
In some ways, “Lark and Termite” is not an easy read. It assumes patience and intelligence on the part of the reader. But assembling this novel is its own reward, because this isn’t just a collection of pitch-perfect monologues. A deeply satisfying story comes together slowly, in confessions and omissions, as the mysteries of the past are filled in and the promise of the future unfolds. Much of “Lark and Termite” takes place in tunnels, and this novel is filled with echoes, voices reverberating off each other to create a rich and lasting resonance. You finish “Lark and Termite” wanting to turn back to the first page and start over, making sure not to miss a single note.
Phillips’ rendering of Termite’s consciousness is fantastically kinesthetic: He can feel “smashed air” swirling around him when he is afraid; “pictures that touch him move and change, they lift and turn, stutter their edges and blur into one other.” He is prescient and knows things other characters do not know; his point of view is a secret between him and the reader.
Lark & Termite is a category of story unto itself: mystical without being gooey; wry and terribly moving; as ornately contrived as Dickens, as poetic as Morrison, yet unselfconscious in tone and peopled with vivid, salt-of-the-earth characters who mostly accept the limits on life’s possibilities with a shrug and another cup of coffee.