I’ve read a lot of Stephen King’s stuff. Not as much as Ben has–but still a lot. And Lisey’s Story, King’s 2006 novel, is easily my favorite of the Maine writer’s oeuvre. It chronicles two stories: The first is the primary narrative and tells the story of Lisey Landon, the widow of famous writer Scott Landon. We catch up with Lisey a few years after her husband has died; she’s finally decided to clean out his study/writing area, and the task brings up memories of their life together, memories that set the course for the rest of the novel. The second story is made up of these memories. We get a slow unraveling of Scott and Lisey’s marriage, and the trip through her memories is one that Lisey, at times, struggles against. It turns out that there are things Lisey has purposefully forgotten, and they are the very things she needs to get through the trials and tribulations she faces in the act of cleaning out her husband’s study and fending off his work from the literary poachers ravenous to get at it.
That description probably makes it sound like a pretty average book, and you know what? From a purely plot-summary standpoint, it is a pretty average book. But where Lisey’s Story really shines is in its portrayal of the relationship Scott and Lisey once had and the loss Lisey now feels. The supernatural element so present in King’s writing is present in the past we uncover for the two Landons, but this is ultimately just window dressing for the real prize inside. Stephen King can be a touching, eloquent, and heartfelt writer when he wants to be, and it’s pretty obvious that this story meant something to him. The relationship between Scott and Lisey unfolds slowly, and the uncovering of her memories is balanced perfectly with the way in which Lisey is dealing with what her life has become. The back and forth between pushing us forward in the present day and filling in the details of that present day via memories of past days is really well done, and there’s a way in which King throws you in the deep end right away. In the first bit of the novel, Lisey alludes to some really important things that happened in her and Scott’s past, but we don’t actually get the full details for almost the whole book. Now, on the one hand, you feel sort of like you’re swimming in uncharted territory for most of the story, but I never once felt like King wasn’t there guiding me. It’s a narrative that wanders and weaves but always with purpose.
I’ve read this book a few times now, and I really want to say that it’s my favorite book of all time. And for a lot of reasons, that would make perfect sense. It’s a story wrapped up in a bow made of Stephen King’s excellent prose, and inside the reader gets one of the best, truest, most honest love stories I’ve ever read. And for the most part, Lisey is a strong and sympathetic main character, and with the sudden popularity of a main female character as weak as Bella Swan, something like this is a good thing. But Lisey, ultimately, is still almost totally dependent on Scott (or the memories of him), and it has troubling ramifications, not for the plot, but for her as a main character. Now, for a novel as good as Lisey’s Story, I’d be willing to overlook just about any manner of literary sin, but this is one that trips me up every time.
For all of the overwhelmingly great things about this book and despite that one issue I have with it, I give Lisey’s Story five huge pieces of lasagna, each one made up of a million regular pieces, out of five. Seriously, go read this book.