Lisey’s Story – Review

We are accostomed to seeing Stephen King make his protagonists authors.  From Ben Mears in ‘Salem’s Lot to Jack Torrence in The Shining, from Paul Sheldon in Misery to Thad Beaumont in The Dark Half, it’s been an often used profession for the lead characters in the King Universe. With Lisey’s Story, we see King exploring slightly new ground and attempting to delve into a bit more of a straight literary ground rather than the slash and gash of his typical horror fare.

Lisa “Lisey” Landon is two years widowed, her famous author husband having passed away from the flu during one of his many (if not continuous) speaking engagements. She has been hounded by literature professors for exclusive access to her husband’s unpublished work, personal correspondance, notebooks and everything else. She (and, we learn, her husband when he was alive) derisively refer to these people as the Incunks, people who are literature sluts, who get off more on the disection (or vivisection) of what they read than from the material itself. Lisey throws the term around with such vehemence that you are left with the feeling that this is something King himself has thought and, likely, said. It is one of these “Incunks” that sets off the main thrust of the action of the story, essentially sicking a deranged fan upon Lisey to “convince” her that she needs to just up and give him the works.

At some point, I remember seeing an interview with Stephen and Tabitha King where Tabitha, his wife, said that her greatest fear was that someone would go after her husband the same way John Lennon was killed. At some speaking engagement, some book signing, some crazy would walk up with a gun and just kill her husband. King, himself, channeled similar fears for his novel Misery where the main character, Paul Sheldon, is rescued from a car accident by a deranged fan and soon finds he is at her mercy.

Twisting this idea around to focus on the widow of the deceased author is a novel approach for King.  He established early in the novel that Lisey has, by and large, been in the background of her husband’s writing life. Her crazy older sister, in helping Lisey clean up her husband’s work area, goes through all of the literary magazines her husband has appeared in and notes how often Lisey is mentioned and how rarely she is mentioned as his wife and, once, even has his “gal pal” – an instance her sister is especially irritated by.  Still, it is this backgroundedness of her existence that makes the transposing of her husband’s problems/concerns onto her the more interesting and startling. Worried that her husband will be killed by some obsessed fan (something that does, in fact, nearly happen to her husband earlier in his life), finding herself in a similar situation is disorienting and troubling.

Lisey’s Story is also an homage to what King refers to within the novel as “the drinking pool” where we all go down to sip and take out little things that define how we talk, how we interact, and how we tell our stories. Throughout the novel he makes several oblique and exacting references to other works of literature, music and movies – things that have become such large parts of our lives – images, words, tunes – that they are part of how we define ourselves, even without our really knowing it.

There is still an element of the supernatural to the story.  In talking about the “drinking pool” King creates a literal other world that people visit, a place that us paradise during the day then to become a horror at night. Not surprisingly, Lisey’s husband was an adept traveler to this place and he mentions how great artists throughout history are the ones who wander out to the deepest ends of the pool and haul in the biggest fish.  It is a sanctuary and a horror for anyone who goes there and, again, it is impossible to ignore an undercurrent of something distinctly autobiographical in the relating of such a place and such an experience. Writing can be a personal war at times and it is clear that King has seen his fair share of time in the trenches.

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