Lisey’s Story by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Lisey’s Story is, at its heart, about a woman, Lisey Landon, coming to terms with the death of her husband, two years dead as the novel begins.
It is also about family and the sacrifices made to keep them together–or to merely survive them.
Along the way are ruminations and reflection on the life of a famous author, being the wife of a famous author, the attendant unhinged and occasionally violent fans, flashbacks to exceedingly ugly childhoods, and a bond that reaches from the past and through an extraordinary place out of time that helps bring closure on a life and love over too soon.
There’s also a creepy monster in some spooky woods and the deranged fans (two, one via flashback, the other a more immediate concern) keep things from getting too maudlin. This is still a King story, after all.
A lot of interesting ideas and themes are at play here and for the most part King juggles them as ably as you would expect. At one point you may even believe the deceased author Scott Landon is not entirely dead–and you may be right, in a way–but in the end Lisey’s story is one in which doors to the past are quietly closed.
The weakest part of the story may be in the overall structure. It’s a sprawling and at times rambling work, sometimes feeling like a lazy ride down a river in summer that suddenly and briefly changes to a plunge into unexpected rapids before easing back into that slow drift again. This is to say the pace is often languid but at times uneven. Some may mistakenly think the deranged fan is the central plot when he actually just serves as another piece to the puzzle in getting Lisey to where she can put the past behind her.
King plays with several of his familiar elements here, and while I roll with them without blinking, others may find the unique phrases the characters use, like “bad-gunky” and “smucking” a bit twee.
Despite its girth, Lisey’s Story has an intimate feel. There is no big bad evil here, no world-destroying plagues or zombie apocalypses. There are supernatural elements, but the most horrifying parts are contained in the depiction of Scott Landon’s childhood at the hands of a deranged and violent father.
Lisey’s Story ultimately succeeds because Lisey’s journey feels authentic and earned. Strip away the creepy “long boy” and the demented fans, the land of the Boo’ya Moon where the dead gather, the flashbacks to childhood terrors, and you are left with a story that simply tells of how one person deals with the grief of a lost love. And that story is told well.
And you may look twice the next time you see someone hefting a spade.
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