Lark and Termite
Jayne Anne Phillips
Kopf, Jan 9 2009, $24.00
In the last week of July 1950 West Virginia, seventeen year old Lark; her mute younger brother Termite and their Aunt Nonie struggle to survive with none of them having any hope for the near future. Lark is confused by her past starting with her mom who dumped her on her aunt before disappearing and ending with having no idea who her dad is. When she was nine, the infant Termite, who cannot walk or talk, was abandoned on Nonie’s doorstep.
Whereas Nonie is filled with fear for herself and her two charges while working overtime at a nearby restaurant to feed the three of them, Lark raises Termite while his father Corporal Robert Leavitt serves in Korea as the war begins. When Lark attends secretarial school, she soon is paralyzed with fear and despair just like her caretaker aunt as she realizes what Nonie knows that the future is at best gloomy for her or Termite.
Four days in July 1950 serve as the basis of this insightful historical character study that enables the audience to look deep inside the souls of the four prime characters and to a lesser degree Lark’s mom. LARK AND TERMITE is both sad and uplifting as the audience along with the teen understand that she like her aunt has no future and Termite’s is even less than hers; yet Lark has dreams for her and her ward even though they her subatomic tiny, they matter. Something as simple as a means for Termite to be a bit mobile like getting him a wheelchair though that is a dream as money is only for the basic sustenance of food and shelter. This coming of age drama is not an easy read as there is an overall feel of dismal inevitability to the story line, but even in total darkness little bits of hopeful light shine through.