I am a newly initiated Stephen King fan. Lisey’s Story is my third book and I have not read his early works. From reviewers to critics, Lisey’s Story comes as unKingly but I believe since I don’t have the shadow of his other works hanging around, I could give a different perspective.
Lisey’s Story, for me not a horror but more of a psychological investigation (I wouldn’t term it as a thriller either). The action was minimalistic and the story was mainly driven by the protagonist, Lisey’s flashbacks and memories. The widow of a celebrated author, Scott Landon, through Lisey’s mind, the reader delves into dynamics of a marriage that is not very simple.
We are shown the brilliance of Scott Landon’s genius as well as the weaknesses and cracks that lie just beneath the surface. Her husband has a family history of some psychological illness that we are not really sure of. This illness is so severe that it leads Scott to do things that he is going to have to live the consequences for, for the rest of his life. But that is not all. What haunts him, is also his muse. Call it Neverland, or Narnia or in his childhood makeup work, Boo’ya Moon, Scott travels to another land which is full of sweet delights and rewards but can also be equally dangerous. This land will give him refuge but also eat at his sanity.
Lisey pines for her husband who has been dead for two years when the story first starts. She needs to clean out her husband’s things_unfinished manuscripts, journals, memorabilia. The reader empathises the need for hanging on to the things of people who are no longer with us. Lisey is a strong woman with a sensible head and that makes her easy to relate to when she submerges herself into the other-world of her husband’s imagination. The novel weaves in the past and present as she struggles to overcome her trepidations and to ward off the eminent attack of a psychopath.
The novel is beautifully written. There is no doubt about it. If you read reviews online, the verdict is an extreme, either readers have loved it or hated it. Avid fans of King, have come away repelled. SK acknowledges the fact that his favourite and most personal book has not been taken in well. In his afterword he mentions that many people wonder what his editor was doing and in his defence he says that the book could not be further edited, and with more skill. I like the fact that SK stands up for his work and writes not to please but to create.
Good things are not perfect. I think they shouldn’t be. The flaws are sometimes just as powerful and sometimes it takes a level of maturity for the reader to grasp that they aren’t flaws at all. However, I do share some misgivings with other readers out there, mainly, his repeated use of some words, like smucking, Manda Bunny, Boo’ya, bad gunky, babyluv (list goes on). Somewhere in the middle of this book it did tick me off but on the whole it’s just a little to forgive for something that holds much depth. One has to remember that we are looking not into an adult mind but also through the eyes of a very young Scott who has partly not grown up. King uses just the perfect language, simple and graceful for the telling. He can write the three year old, the eight year old, the middle aged man who thinks like his ten year old self and a woman who has lost and needs to overcome grief. I am just amazed at the structuring of this novel. Inside Lisey’s head, the present blooms memories of the past and the forgotten. This then gives passage to the present again and wakes Lisey’s inaction into movement. The past and the present and the need to shape the future are dealt with an expertise of a BlackJack dealer.
SK does not mar the pages with literary devices but subtly weaves them in. The color purple, the hot sweltering weather, the cold fury of Maine and the looming sickening beauty of the moon in Boo’ya Moon builds an alluring darkness in the background. There are things which are always looming around the pages, the Afghan (Scott calling it the African) which Lisey’s mother had woven as a wedding present, or the silver spade which literally and symbolically digs Lisey and Scott out of the clutches of death.
The book could have been shorter. Definitely shorter. There were times in the last quarter where I felt that the story should end here. Too much explanation or resolution just makes the story forgettable and Lisey’s story falls victim to that. When a good book ends, I like to think about it, to slowly go back in my head and digest things and to make connections which I missed whilst reading. SK you should’ve known that less is more.
Nevertheless, the novel is filled with poetic passages which redeems all the bad-gunkiness. Some of the lines are heart achingly beautiful.
“Sometimes she’d go a whole day without thinking of him or missing him. Why not? She had quite a full life, and really, he’d often been hard to deal with and hard to live with. A project, the Yankee oldtimers like her very own Dad might have said. And then sometimes a day would come, a gray one (or a sunny one) when she missed him so fiercely she felt empty, not a woman at all anymore but just a dead tree filled with cold November blow. She felt like that now, felt like hollering his name and hollering him home, and her heart turned sick with the thought of the years ahead and she wondered what good love was if it came to this, to even ten seconds of feeling like this.”
“Because who would ever want to get close to another person if they knew how hard the letting-go part was? In your heart they only die a little at a time, don’t they? Like a plant when you go away on a trip and forget to ask a neighbor to poke in once in awhile with the old watering-can, and its so sad—”
SK’s prose expresses some stark truths, some questions, some answers and yet some more questions. What the reader takes away is that a beautiful relationship is not without its own trials, that a love that lives for decades changes its forms and may be lost and found, that a love could transcend the span of a lifetime and beyond.
If I were to describe Lisey’s Story by using a passage from itself_
“And the purple parted before it, snapping back like skin after a slash, and what it let out wasn’t blood but light: amazing orange light that filled her heart and mind with a terrible mixture of joy, terror, and sorrow. No wonder she had repressed this memory all these years. It was too much. Far too much. The light seemed to give the fading air of evening a silken texture, and the cry of a bird struck her ear like a pebble made of glass. A cap of breeze filled her nostrils with a hundred exotic perfumes: frangipani, bougainvillea, dusty roses, and oh dear God, night-blooming cereus… And rising above one horizon came the orange mansion of the moon, bloated and burning cold, while the sun sank below the other, boiling in a crimson house of fire. She thought that mixture of furious light would kill her with its beauty.”
My Verdict: In years to come, this novel will stand the test of time.