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Lisey's Story Hardcover – October 24, 2006
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Guest Reviewer: Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts, who also writes under the pseudonym J.D. Robb, is the author of way too many bestselling books to name here (over 150!), but some of our favorites include: Angels Fall, Born in Death, Blue Smoke, and The Reef.
Stephen King hooked me about three decades ago with that sharply faceted, blood-stained jewel, The Shining. Through the years he's bumped my gooses with kiddie vampires, tingled my spine with beloved pets gone rabid, justified my personal fear of clowns and made me think twice about my cell phone. I've always considered The Stand--a long-time favorite--a towering tour de force, and have owed its author a debt as this was the first novel I could convince my older son to read from cover to cover.
But with Lisey's Story, King has accomplished one more feat. He broke my heart.
Lisey's Story is, at its core, a love story--heart-wrenching, passionate, terrifying and tender. It is the multi-layered and expertly crafted tale of a twenty-five year marriage, and a widow's journey through grief, through discovery and--this is King, after all--through a nightmare scape of the ordinary and extraordinary. Through Lisey's mind and heart, the reader is pulled into the intimacies of her marriage to bestselling novelist Scott Landon, and through her we come to know this complicated, troubled and heroic man.
Two years after his death, Lisey sorts through her husband's papers and her own shrouded memories. Following the clues Scott left her and her own instincts, she embarks on a journey that risks both her life and her sanity. She will face Scott's demons as well as her own, traveling into the past and into Boo'ya Moon, the seductive and terrifying world he'd shown her. There lives the power to heal, and the power to destroy.
Lisey Landon is a richly wrought character of charm and complexity, of realized inner strength and redoubtable humor. As the central figure she drives the story, and the story is so vividly textured, the reader will draw in the perfumed air of Boo'ya Moon, will see the sunlight flood through the windows of the Scott's studio--or the night press against them. Her voice will be clear in your ear as you experience the fear and the wonder. If your heart doesn't hitch at the demons she faces in this world and the other, if it doesn't thrill at her courage and endurance, you're going to need to check with a cardiologist, first chance.
Lisey's Story is bright and brilliant. It's dark and desperate. While I'll always consider The Shining, my first ride on King's wild Tilt-A-Whirl, a gorgeous, bloody jewel, I found, on this latest ride, a treasure box heaped with dazzling gems.
A few of them have sharp, hungry teeth. --Nora Roberts
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
However, I think that the book was badly in need of some editorial intervention at some point. I'm not referring to the book's length (though it IS too long, probably by about 300 pages), but rather to (1) an incredibly excessive use of silly language and (2) too many different threads of plot that don't manage to fully connect.
In terms of the silly language . . . well, "silly" is patently the wrong word for me to use. Here's the deal. The two main characters, one of whom exists only in recollection by the other, are a (formerly) married couple who have a sort of private language consisting of certain phrases ("Strap On Whenever It Seems Appropriate," for example) and words (replacing "afghan," meaning the sawhl. with "african," and so on). This is nothing revolutionary; it's the same thing as an inside joke, and everyone I know, in each significant relationship, has a few of tthose that get tossed around until they do in fact become a sort of private language. But here's the problem with that in a novel: it kept me at a distance the entire time. I think it was designed to bring me into the interior lives of these two people, but it had the exact opposite effect on me, and at a certain point in time I began to get actively annoyed every time this sort of thing appeared. And it's used A LOT. Less so toward the end of the novel, but it's incessant in the first 200 pages.
My second major problem is that there's just too much going on, and some of it I can't quite manage to care about.
One plot is about Lisey taking care of her mentally ill sister Amanda, and this storyline, while well told, just doesn't come together. Amanda's story has no resolution; she's only there so that she can back Lisey up in another element of the story, which she fails to do with any weight -- so, in a sense, she's a pointless character.
Another plot deals with Lisey's attempts to clean out her husband's many papers, which leads to an increasingly dangerous series of encounters with a stalker who could have walked straight out of King's "Secret Window, Secret Garden" (King even acknowledges this, in a way I'm sure will be lost on all but the most ardent King fans). This part of the plot allows Lisey to be an active character (in other words, it serves to actually give her something to do), but I don't buy it for a second. It seems incredibly forced, and not at all relevant.
The third major plot element involves Lisey remembering -- through clues Scott left her before his death -- certain things about her husband's life (and their life together) that she has sort of been repressing. This element of the novel works almost entirely, and if the rest had been jettisoned, it would rank as one of King's finest achievements. This part of the story is a beautifully told love story with additional touches of divine fantasy and brutal horror, and it's pretty much sublime. The problem is, it's told haltingly, with many interruptions from the other parts of the plot. It's a shame, because the svelte form of a classic dark fantasy have been rendered into corpulence by material that ought to have been exluded.
Ultimately, it's a novel that's well worth reading (it's about one-third brilliant), but I personally can only classify it as a big-time missed opportunity. Still, mediocre King is better than most writers when they're on top of their game.
There was a point very early on when it looked to me as if LISEY'S STORY was going to be King's major attempt at non-genre fiction, and I almost stopped reading. There are two protagonists herein: Lisey Debusher Landon and her husband of a quarter-century, Scott. In the "now" of LISEY'S STORY, Scott, an award-winning author, has been deceased for two years, and Lisey has multiple balls in the air: her relationship with each of her somewhat batty sisters, pressure from a pushy academic type to gain access to Scott's trove of papers, and her own grief. As I started to set aside this weighty tome, I thought, "More John Irving than John Saul, aha!" There's nothing wrong with books of domestic matters, of course; they're just not my cup of tea.
But I didn't give up, and as the novel progressed, I discovered that there is much more to LISEY'S STORY than domestic drama. A great deal of this tale consists of flashbacks concerning the long course of the Landons' courtship and marriage, and we ultimately come to know Scott, who is much more than a wonderful husband and wordsmith. Scott has secrets, not the least important of which is his ability to "heal quick," his "books" and his love for Lisey. Maybe the latter isn't much of a secret at all, because Scott --- even before his untimely death --- saw things coming for Lisey and set about providing for her.
What did he see coming? Well, it's not a clown under a bridge or a pyrokinetic teenager or even a nasty disease transmitted over a cell phone. No, it's something much worse: a living, breathing nightmare made of flesh that is out there right now, a walking waste of skin looking for a victim even as I type. And it is after Lisey. But Lisey has help, and not just from her deceased husband. She will have to go to some immeasurable lengths in order to obtain it.
LISEY'S STORY is perhaps allegorical in some ways and deeply personal in others. Scott bears no small resemblance to King's template, and there are no doubt some other real-world comparisons to be made between this fine work's characters and people in King's life. I will leave the deep analysis of this to others more informed than myself on such matters. As for LISEY'S STORY, I am glad I kept reading. What higher praise is there than that? While it is not my favorite King novel --- that remains MISERY, for personal reasons --- it is probably his best written.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub