Ultimately, Lisey’s Story is an unmemorable foray into King’s trademark prose. While it’s certainly compelling, it doesn’t really stand up to some of his classic works like The Stand or to some of his more recent works like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I mostly read it because I’m a pretty rabid King fan, and have a thing about reading everything by certain beloved authors.
Really, it’s this love that got me through. King takes some of his more awesome artistic conventions (like using parentheses to convey hidden layers of thought and inventing words) to a ridiculous extent. These tactics normally convey a crumbling world (like in the The Dark Tower series) or a mind slowly going off its hinge (The Shining). Here? They serve to jar the reader, and infantalize the narrator, Lisey Landon, the widow of the Puliltzer prize winning author, Scott Landon. Lisey, who’s now sitting on top of Scott’s papers, a massive uncatalogued archival trove that’s set academia all afrothing with desire, is the youngest of four girls, and not a college graduate, though Scott describes her as being clever enough when she’s not thinking about it. Scott met her as a struggling undergrad, when he was the “hotshot” writer invited to her campus, and bam! They fall in love and get married. She’s the Gal Pal to his academic godhood, traveling with him on book tours across the world, generally ignored by academics and the general public.
After Scott dies, one of the academics most interested in Scott’s papers sets a crazy assassin on her, and she’s got to follow the trail of bed crumbs Scott’s left her in order to escape the assassin’s evil clutches. King argues that “reality is Ralph,” the mysteries of love and the universe that create beautiful serendipity, but this really marked my first problem with the text. Even if this trail of crumbs is really about Amanda, Lisey’s sister who is gradually getting sucked into the same world Scott’s been drawing his inspiration from, and not the crazy man who wants to rape and kill Lisey, the idea of Scott as a sort of omniscient brat prince with a pure love for Lisey just never quite gelled for me.
Anyways, this same trail also works as a grieving trail for Lisey, since it’s by following this path that she encounters the depth of her husband’s love for her and some of the most troubling secrets of their marriage. The emotional depth of this journey should be enough to save the overall novel from mediocrity… but it doesn’t.
Scott’s big reveal is that he occasionally travels to Boo’ya Moon, an alternate world where the pool containing all the archetypes and dreams authors draw from is manifested. Boo’ya’s got some nasties living in it, like the long boy*, whose deadly attention is simultaneously wavering and implacable. Cool. Scott’s one of very few (this is genetic, I think?) who can access this place, even though Lisey can as well. Part of this makes sense in text — Lisey’s an extreme mother figure for Scott (since he is a Troubled Artist) so it’s one of the archetypes Scott so loves brought to (fictional) life. Of course she can consciously travel between worlds! She’s got to take care of Scott! Reality is Ralph! While this fits the theme of the novel (fiction/reality often blur, only in reality we really allow the benevolence of the universe to shine through), it also really shortchanges Lisey as a character. Everything in her life led her to Scott. Everything after is molded by him. While her sisters are important to her, it is Scott who allows her to save Amanda. He defines her, and because of this, only rarely does she leap out as a character in her own right, which is truly unfortunate since this is supposed to be her story.
*Dude, the long boy is also a really off-putting phallic symbol, what with the leprosy and the blindly-seeking-YOU scariness of it. The scenes with Boo’ya really do jump off the page, and are the moments where King’s mastery of ambience really shine through.