Jayne Anne Phillips’ Southern Accent

Most reviews of Jayne Anne Phillips‘ beautiful, curiously structured new novel, Lark & Termite, suggest a connection to William Faulkner‘s The Sound and the Fury. It’s hard to avoid that impression—the novel is a Southern story, and Termite is a child who can’t walk and can only parrot back what others say. But it’d be a mistake to characterize Termite as a Benjy Compson-esque boy, and for her part Phillips is avoiding the comparison. She changes the subject in an interview with the Oregonian:

When Phillips is reminded of Faulkner’s inspiration for “The Sound and the Fury,” she has no direct reaction but talks about how “there was a lot of kismet around this book.” She once admired a sketch by her friend, artist Mary Sherman, who immediately tore it out of her sketchbook and gave it to Phillips. The sketch is the frontispiece to “Lark and Termite” and contains Sherman’s scribbled note with the word Termite, a gift of the character’s name and image.

And besides, though Faulkner tinkered often with structure, the arrangement of Lark & Termite, shuttling between nine years in West Virginia and Korea, is wholly her own. The central incident in the Korean sections, in fact, only came later:

Much later, after she knew that part of the book would be set in Korea, Phillips read the Associated Press story about the events at No Gun Ri, when South Korean civilians were killed by U.S. troops. Phillips can remember the day she read the story, “in 1999, Sept. 30, to be exact,” and what accompanied it.

“There was a big color photo of a tunnel, and as soon as I saw it, I knew that’s what happened to (one of her characters),” she said.

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