1. Have you read any of Jayne Anne Phillips's other books? If so, in what ways is Lark and Termite similar to her earlier work, and how is it different?
2. Reread the quotations in the epigraph. Now that you've read the novel, what does each one mean to you?
3. On page 5, Leavitt thinks, "The war makes ghosts of them all." In what ways does this prove true? Which ghosts are literal, and which metaphorical?
4. Who is the strongest person in the novel? The weakest?
5. Mothers, and substitute mothers, play a substantial role in the novel. What do you think Jayne Anne Phillips is trying to say about motherhood?
6. Compare and contrast the sibling relationships in the novel: Lark and Termite, Nonie and Lola, and the nameless Korean pair.
7. Discuss the sense of sound as it relates to each of the main characters. In what ways does sound function differently for Termite than for Nonie or Lark? What about Leavitt and Lola? What does the sense of sound say about the importance of language?
8. Two different tunnels are the settings for major developments in the novel. What do they signify?
9. On page 24, Lola says of Lark, "I gave her a bird's name. Maybe she'll grow up safe and fly away."And on page 34 Lark discusses Termite’s nickname: "I think he's in himself like a termite's in a wall." What other names in the novel carry metaphorical weight?
10. Why does Charlie take care of Lola? What about Onslow?
11. "Termite can only tell the truth," Lark says on page 85. Who else tells the truth? Who lies? What are the ramifications?
12. What role does Solly play? What about his father, Nick?
13. Throughout the novel, we revisit events from different perspectives. How do the multiple takes change your understanding of what's happening?
14. On page 144, Lark says, "It's almost as though Stamble and Termite are related versions of something, but Stamble walks around in the world and Termite doesn't." Who is Robert Stamble? Why does Lark see him?
15. Where do you think Termite's new wheelchair really came from?
16. Discuss the flood. How is each character's life affected?
17. Reread and discuss the final Termite passages, on pages 249-250. What is revealed there?
18. Does the novel have a happy ending?
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; Charming Billy by Alice McDermott; The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers; In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War by Charles J. Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe, and Martha Mendoza.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jayne Anne Phillips is the author of five acclaimed works of fiction. She is currently professor of English and director of the MFA Program at Rutgers-Newark. She divides her time among Boston, New York, and Glen Ridge, New Jersey.