Book Review: Lisey’s Story – Stephen King

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A few months ago I had picked up Stephen King’s fine book on writing – On Writing. The first half of the book was autobiographical and the second was about his experiences as a writer, what makes him write and what aspiring writers should do to grow into the kinds of writers they like reading. There was a brief section toward the end about his nearly fatal accident and the painful recovery process. I had never been a Stephen King fan until I read this book. It wasn’t as if I had anything against the author – just the horror genre. I scare easy, especially when the scare emanates from the pages of a book – it is an unshakeable scare when it comes from a book; your fingers seem glued to the book as it draws you in deeper and deeper.

I have seen movies based on his books – Misery, Carrie, The Shining, The Langoliers – and have enjoyed them immensely, but something kept me away from his books. On Writing, however, was the turning point. I liked the author and his ideas about life, love, writers and writing so much that I decided to orient myself to some of his works.

I couldn’t resist the bright red cover of his new book Lisey’s Story. It was getting good reviews and I liked what I read in the dust jacket synopsis. The cover underneath the dust jacket was quite intriguing as well. It showed a bright garden, all kinds of bright and colorful tropical flowers and plants crowding each other out on the bottom portion of the picture, as if one was about to pick up a Maeve Binchy book, but as your eyes followed it up the cover it slowly faded into warped, rotten, dead and wilted trees and flowers. I had to buy it. Lisey’s Story had drawn me in even before I could read the first word on the first page.

It is interesting to read an author’s work after having read their autobiography. Authors are always questioned about the autobiographical content in their works of fiction. One assumes these threads run through their work with some consistency. I suppose we all want to know what makes each writer write a certain way. We want to get inside their heads and learn more about them. On the face of it, this goes against my assertion that most of us are so self-absorbed we couldn’t care less what makes others tick, but on another level it affirms it. Those of us who aspire to write want to know about the inner mechanics of a writer’s brain, so we can find some similarities in experience or background – so we can attempt to answer the question – Why can’t we do it if they can? That’s when we either throw up our hands in defeat and accept that we will never be able to write as well as they do or we tell ourselves that the more we read the better we will be able to write, that it isn’t easy, it needs a certain devotion to the craft. It needs ones singular attention. King often stresses this in his book on writing. So, needless to say, I too was searching for parallels in Lisey’s Story, wondering how close it came to the story of Tabby (King’s wife – the book is dedicated to Tabby. Maine, King’s state, is the setting for this novel, although there are parts based in Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Nashville. I did find many parallels, a few of them confirmed by the author himself and the last couple of pages of credits. Seeking the parallels was a thrill in itself.

The protagonists in the novel are a famous author and his wife: the author who carries dark secrets with him and his wife – the only safe haven in his tormented world. Ostensibly, the story is one of love and devotion, of spines of steel and imaginations that have merged with reality. It’s about being there for those who matter to you and about knowing when to move on, when to close the final chapter. The plot was masterful and riveting. But as a reader I noticed several delicious layers of rapturous story-telling, of authenticity, of reality, of living with psychoses and finding safe havens.

Stephen King must be so finely attuned to the speech patterns and dictions of various parts of the country. He switched from the anglicized sounds of Maine to the flat and nasal intonations of the Midwest to the southern drawl with such ease, transporting the reader with him, making them feel as though they were watching each scene unfold in front of their eyes. The book is about the blurring and eventual erasure of the line between the real and the shadow worlds of our imaginations and just as the protagonists find their alive and vibrant shadow world, the reader too feels her own sleeping imagination sparked alive. The fiction seems to rise up in wisps through the pages of the book and surround you in the wondrous reality of daylight Boo’Ya Moon and the terrors of the night, where one is in danger of coming across the bad-gunky and tracking down bools. Yes, these words are creations of the author. We also come across acronyms like SOWISA (Strap On When It Is Most Appropriate) and many others. This is what is most appealing, this shows the inner map, the inner mechanics of a marriage that has worked over many years – married couples, families, brothers and sisters, we all share codes or forms of expression that would be so meaningless to an outsider, and it is delightful to see them flow through King’s pen with such authenticity and such natural ease.

There is an interesting vignette within the story of when the author-protagonist (Scott Landon) has submitted his manuscript for editing and his editor calls the plot ‘creaky’ and not real enough. After letting out some steam about it he chances upon a newspaper story about a dog named Ralph who returns to his owners after being missing for six months – just walks back in all by himself. He points to the story and asks his wife what the chances were that his editor would call a similar fictional occurrence in his plot ‘creaky’? Since that time the couple has a new saying that is often pulled out when appropriate: “Reality is Ralph”. There are ways in which we greet those who are close to us, there are secrets and jokes we share that are foreign to those who are not a part of our closest circle and King brings out this aspect of our lives with such beauty and clarity.

Some books are like echoes, they resonate and call you back to visit long after you slam the back cover to the last n-hundredth page. This was one of them. I believe many more Stephen King books will line my bookshelves from now on.

2 Comments

  1. Need I reiterate that you're a pro with reviews?! Loved reading this one — totally with you on the "finding parallels" bit…I often secretly crave for that little sneak peek into writers' minds myself. And of course, King is King. Oh, and the red sure is irresistable!Ronj

  2. I find your postings here interesting to read – more than most of the postings on sandc message board. – Jothi


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