Friday, March 6, 2009

Unconditional Love

Lark and Termite
by Jayne Anne Phillips

This. Is. A. Beautiful. Book. There really is no way I can do it justice. I'm envious of someone who can write as evocatively and tenderly as Jayne Anne Phillips. Lark and Termite will break your heart. Several times over. Its symbolism is provocative without being in your face. The descriptions are thorough without being draggy. The characters are people we know.

Termite is a profoundly handicapped child, being raised by his Aunt Nonie and his sister Lark. The cause of Termite's condition is never specifically given, but it is clear that his ability to communicate is compromised and that he will never live independently. Nonie cares for both her niece and nephew (their parents are dead) with a gruffness that occasionally belies her fierce loyalty and deep love. Nonie's boyfriend Charlie and the sadness of the lost years between them add another layer of melancholy to a story that is already steeped in sadness.

As sad as it is, though, Lark and Termite is no downer. Lark's total acceptance of Termite as he is, her utter conviction that Termite is the way God intended him to be and that he is a gift from God, informs every decision that she makes. The reader falls in love with her and roots for her every step of the way. Her determination to do the right thing for her little brother, her determination to advocate for this one who cannot speak for himself, is Christ's sacrificial love embodied in the life of a human teenager (not a group normally known for their empathy and caring, but I think we often underestimate them). Even when she has a chance to escape the depressed West Virginia town where she has grown up, Lark will not put her own needs first, and she refuses to leave until she finds a way to take Termite with her.

Phillips does a tremendous job depicting Termite. It is so hard to permeate the exterior of people who cannot communicate, but Phillips lets us in just enough to help us perceive his specialness while still letting the ambiguities concerning exactly what he is feeling and thinking remain. As a writer, it must be so difficult to create a character like Termite, but we all have known people like him. She is able to express the truth that people like Termite have spirits that seek to be loved and hearts that need to feel secure and cared for. In that respect, they are not so different from the rest of us.

Lark's sacrifice is paralleled with the death of Termite's father, told in flashbacks, as he saves the lives of two children in the midst of a battle in the Korean War. Various characters throughout the narrative, which spans about a 10 year period, show that there are some things, be they principles or people, for which it is worth surrendering our lives. That's a good thing to remember during Lent. Get this book. It is a must read.

Oh, and how about that flood scene? The rats? Shudder.

Reverent Reader


At 3/6/09, 4:26 PM , Blogger Saying Grace said...

Okay. I'm going with you on this one.

At 3/6/09, 4:30 PM , Blogger Saying Grace said...

Alas. The Library tells me I have to wait 32 days. So no Lent. But I'll have more time after Easter anyway.

At 3/6/09, 5:29 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

RH - let me know if you would like to borrow my copy. I'm sure you have plenty to read between now and Easter, but there may be fodder for the Easter sermon there. I am willing to share.


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