Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review: Lisey's Story

I bought this book because it was paperback, long (653 pages), and by an author whose work I know I like (Stephen King). In other words, it was perfect for a trip that involved sitting in an airplane for 19 hours, plus assorted time riding on trains, subways, and general waiting-around. And if I inadvertently left it behind somewhere, my heart would not be broken.

What I rediscovered is that Stephen King may be weak on his endings, but he absolutely nails everyday life. He's been married to the same woman (novelist Tabitha King) for a long time and it really shows in this book. He nails the quirks of a long-married couple: the special vocabulary couples develop over time, the shared memories, the knowing what will make the other person laugh.

Lisey (rhymes with "CC") Landon is the widow of Scott Landon, a best-selling novelist who died too young. Two years have passed and Lisey is finally ready--she thinks--to go through Scott's papers in his study.

Lisey's oldest sister, Amanda, shows up to help. Amanda has a tenuous relationship with reality and Lisey is concerned that her sister might be going over the edge because Amanda's long-time boyfriend has come back to town with a new wife. At the end of the day, Amanda hands Lisey a list of all the articles where Lisey is mentioned or where there is a photo of her and Scott. This simple act causes Lisey to start going through the wall of books and journals and discovers a newspaper clipping with a note in Scott's handwriting: Must show Lisey! How she will LAUGH. But will she understand? (Our survey says YES) To the best of her memory, Scott never showed this to Lisey. It's a picture of a police officer and a startled looking young man. And the heel of Lisey's loafer, leaving the frame.

This picture brings back memories that Lisey would rather not recall. Memories about Scott's near death and how, that time, she was able to call him back. Memories about the dark areas of Scott's soul that she would rather not remember, but that were essential to his genius.

Scott Landon, it turns out, is a complicated man with a complicated family history. And he understood Amanda's pain, better than any of her sisters could.

Add to the mix university professors who are drooling over what might be revealed about Scott's writings if only they were allowed access to his papers. But Lisey is the executor and Lisey will release them when she is ready. One person, however, is not willing to wait.

To save herself, and to save Amanda, Lisey must confront Scott's demons. The clues are buried in the past, in her relationship with Scott. Does she have the strength to face her memories?

Mr. King writes beautifully about the relationship between husband and wife, about the relationships among sisters (he credits watching Tabitha and her sisters), and about the dark place where stories are sometimes born. He writes about the complicated relationship and love a dysfunctional family can have for each other. He is eloquent about literature and the relationship readers have with authors. In fact, the only part where he falters is near the end when Lisey finally has to confront Evil.

I'm not surprised and only slightly disappointed. Evil and Wickedness imagined is much more powerful than Evil and Wickedness named. I've always found Mr. King's visions much more horrifying when they were abstract than when they finally became concrete.

But until then, and in the denouement, what a glorious ride!

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Bookmarks