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LARK AND TERMITE

As usual Phillips writes up a storm (this time literally), but without a convincing story, readers may find themselves...

Phillips (English/Rutgers-Newark; MotherKind, 2000, etc.) divides her novel between July 1950, when a young soldier in the Korean War dreams about his unborn son, and July 1959, when that son, an orphaned hydrocephalic nine-year-old, is being raised by his older half sister and their aunt in West Virginia.

Basically blind, his language limited to the repetition of other people’s sentence endings, Termite is severely mentally and physically disabled, but Phillips gives him an active, if unconvincing inner life based on his sensitive hearing. Termite’s 17-year-old half sister Lark devotes herself to his care, a devotion based not on a sense of duty but on pure love. Raised by her Aunt Nonie, Lark has no memory of her mother Lola and no idea that her father is Charlie, who runs the restaurant where Nonie works. Years ago Nonie and Charlie were lovers. Then Nonie left for Atlanta. Charlie brought Lola to live with Nonie after their mother’s death and the three fell into a convoluted lovers’ triangle. Charlie moved back home, Lola had Charlie’s baby, Nonie moved home and, when Lark was three, Lola sent her to Nonie. Charlie and Nonie became lovers again but never married. Lola became a nightclub singer. She found unexpected happiness with a young clarinetist, Bobby Leavitt. They married and she was pregnant before he shipped overseas. Although Phillips returns repeatedly to the tunnel where Corporal Leavitt finds himself trapped trying to save a Korean girl and her brother from friendly fire, the novel’s heart lies with Lark. Phillips is not afraid of symbolism. Lark often carries Termite into a nearby tunnel. A mysterious ghostly, perhaps Christ-like young man appears bearing gifts and then disappears. A flood roars through town causing destruction and revealing hidden truths.

As usual Phillips writes up a storm (this time literally), but without a convincing story, readers may find themselves sinking into a marsh of sensory overload.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-375-40195-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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