I read Black Tickets a year or so ago at the request of my thesis advisor, who, after reading one of my short stories, decided that Phillips was a must-read for me. Read it, I did. I got a battered copy out of the library, read it, turned it in, requested it, read it again, turned it in, and then got it out yet again.
I have yet to find my very own copy, so if you spot one, grab it for me. And if you know my address, send it my way.
Under Ms. Phillips in the bookstore, though, they never have a copy. What they sometimes do have is Lark and Termite, her latest novel. I bought it back (way back before the Border's closings) when Joseph Beth went under. Well, now that I'm in thesis hours and don't have a stack of books to read for class, I finally have time to crack the spine of Lark and Termite. The best-known story from Tickets is told from the point of view of Son of Sam, so I was expecting something similar in this novel. It's not at all what I expected. It's better. (Though the short story collection will still be my first Phillips love.)
Set during and in the decade after the Korean War, it follows the lives of a soldier, his son, his son's half sister, and his wife's sister. The son is mentally handicapped, but she manages to capture the essence of his unusual musical mind with her language. I'm halfway through so far. It's taking me longer than usual, partly because I'm mostly reading it only on the bus and train during the daily commute but also because I keep stopping mid-paragraph and rereading sentences. So many of her sentences are just gems, on after another.
I'm a speed reader. I'm a reader who grew up on genre sci-fi and I'm very much a read-it-fast-to-find-out-how-it-ends sort of gal. (And yes, I realize how terrible it is to say that as a student of literary writing.) I find a book to stop and slow down for maybe once a year, if I'm lucky. I found it in Lark and Termite.
I don't really care how it ends. I'm happy suspending that knowing to enjoy each syllable, each line. Just reading this book makes me feel like a better writer.