Lisey’s Story (Book)

Lisey's Story reviewWritten by Stephen King

Published by Scribner

You know that saying about sex and pizza? About how even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good? That’s how I feel about Stephen King.

Mmmmmmmm … sex, pizza, and Stephen King ….

Sorry, back to reality. Anyway, I don’t mean to give the impression that Lisey’s Story is bad, because it’s not. Just saying when King is not that great, he’s good, so when he’s GOOD…

One of the things he’s ALWAYS good at is creating likeable, relatable characters that seem to live and breathe off the page, and this is no exception. Lisey (Lee-Cee) is a very down-to-earth, rational, steady woman who married Scott Landon, an eccentric, creative and somewhat unstable writer. Their relationship, which serves as the lynchpin for the story, works as a sort of opposites-attract teeter totter. Like many King novels, Lisey’s Story possesses its own particular phraseology, in this case the internal language of the Landon marriage. One of their pet phrases is “Everything the same”, referring to Lisey’s ability to see Scott as more than just a famous writer but as a man with flaws and holes in his socks, and to love him. It’s a strong and touching sentiment in a book full of touching sentiments. And it makes the fact that Lisey has lost Scott – he’s been dead two years at the start of the book – even more immediate and accessible.

Because of Scott’s fame and the awards he’d won, scholars all over the country have been hassling Lisey for his unpublished works, correspondence, notes, grocery lists; anything they can get their hands on. And so, partially to take stock of his work so it can be donated and also because it’s something that must be done, Lisey begins the monumental task of cleaning, packing and cataloguing the contents of Scott’s study in their converted barn with the help of her unstable older sister Amanda. It’s an obsessive whim of Amanda’s, listing all of the pictures of Lisey in the periodicals in the study, that opens a door for Lisey – back through the history of her marriage and memories she’d locked away. Memories of the man she had married and the life he’d lived, with her, and as a child, and the secret world he sometimes inhabited.

It sounds like a whimsical storyline, and in anyone else’s hands, it probably would have been. But this is Stephen King, kids! What little whimsy there is (Scott’s world is called Boo’ya Moon and it’s a vibrant, fairytale landscape) strikes but a small match in the darkness. Old maps often bore the legend “Here there be monsters”, and Lisey’s Story abounds with monsters, both literal and figurative. Lisey is being stalked by a crazed “Incunk” (a bastardization of Incunabula, a term that refers to early manuscripts) who wants her husband’s papers. Or that’s what he says he wants, but really he wants to hurt her. Fans of Stephen King will recognize both Jim Dooley’s home town, and some of his tricks from the “John Shooter Secret Window, Secret Garden Stalker Handbook”. Not only does Lisey have to contend with Dooley and his nefarious can opener, but she has to save her sister from catatonic coma, and unravel the mystery left behind by her dead husband involving the past, present, and Lisey’s future.

There’s a lot going on throughout Lisey’s Story, but King keeps the pace and flow moving along at a nice clip which makes for a smooth read. I didn’t feel like there were many slow points throughout the book where the action was non-existent. Once the story gets started, things are pretty much happening constantly, even if it’s only in flashback. I wouldn’t call this an “action packed” book but something is always going on. Stephen King fans will also be more than pleased with the familiar names and places that make some cameos. It’s one of the things I love about King, that feeling every time I crack a cover it’s a lot like visiting home. The Landon’s live up on Castle View, Lisey’s sister Amanda lives across Deep Cut Road in Harlow, a store clerk wears an “I Heart Dark Score Lake” T-shirt, and the Castle County Sheriff is Norris Ridgewick and his Deputy is Andy Clutterbuck. Imagine, Sheriff Norris Ridgewick! Long time King fans can remember when he was just an officer interviewing Mrs. Arsenault about that nasty business that happened to Homer Gamache.

It’s not all wine and roses, though. There are times when some of Scott and Lisey’s internal language can be too much. In particular, the substitution of “smucking” for “fucking” grated on my nerves after the first few times and it’s used a LOT more than just a few times. That’s what bothered me. If you’re someone who’s using the word that much, just say “fuck” already! The rest of their “babytalk” isn’t really baby-ish, and some of it is quite good. I particularly liked “strap it on”, for example. It made me think of gunslingers, like Roland, and it sounded like something he would say – or at least a sentiment he would agree with. And it’s a phrase I could hear being used in real life, which is a mark in its favor. Like a hardcore version of “Get it together”, or “get ready”.

Another problem I had was that Jim Dooley was far less menacing then he should have been. He wasn’t as well developed as any of the other characters, and while he was decently drawn enough, compared to the vividness of Lisey it stands out quite a bit.

Still, King is a master wordslinger. He uses language to paint a vivid and haunting picture of two people who loved each other very deeply and have now been separated by death. For all its monsters and darkness and strangeness that are so very commonplace to King, this book is really about Lisey and Scott and the relationship they share. They may not know every single thing there is to know about each other, but they know enough to know that there is love. And it’s beautiful. Anyone who’s lost someone they loved and were close to would be touched by it. And it got me on another emotional level as well, as a newly married woman. There have been several Stephen King books that touched something emotional in me, but none quite this deeply. It reminds me, in its dark and bizarre way, of a poem I read in college called “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne. King himself feels it’s his best book, and while I wouldn’t go that far (I have my favorites after all these years that will no doubt never be dethroned), it’s definitely an extremely powerful book.

4 out 5

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Jon Condit

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