Saturday, August 18, 2007

Books: Lisey's Story

• King treads some familiar ground in a book that still manages to be vital.

Released: Oct. 24, 2006; current in paperback
Verdict: &&&1/2

Lisey's Story is a novel foremost about the depths of love, but it's also about madness and (again) the writing life. Upon its release last year, it had the uninspiring air of one of those latter-day King reads that you expect to be a chore, like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or the forgettable parts of Hearts in Atlantis, but the critical buzz convinced me not to skip it (an option that would never have entered my mind years ago before books like Rose Madder and the aforementioned Tom Gordon). King himself has said this is probably his best book, and I say without hesitation that he couldn't be more wrong. It is a good one, however, with an energy in his prose surpassing that of last year's other King novel, Cell. Lisey Landon is the widow of famous novelist Scott Landon, now two years departed. She is threatened by an intellectual and a thug who are out to get her husband's unpublished work, and this sets the stage for flashbacks to Scott's tormented childhood living with a mad father and brother and to pivotal events such as an attempt on Scott's life and his eventual death years later. Early on, the reader gets the promise of something more as Lisey recalls Scott's fear of a certain something glimpsed in the reflection of a drinking glass and the thing he tells her about with an "endless piebald side." King is at the top of his game telling and retelling the murder attempt in excruciating detail, down to Lisey watching a blood bubble burst from his lips as he lies possibly dying of a gunshot at a library dedication. That's only the beginning of the layering that continues throughout the hefty novel; Scott's torture at the hands of his father and his brother's madness or possession is woven into Lisey's present-day tribulations. An element of fantasy surfaces as the story visits "Boo'ya Moon," a mystical place of healing and inspiration and other strong emotions. (I found this bit vaguely reminiscent of the painting in that awful early '90s novel Rose Madder. There's a glimpse of Boo'ya Moon underneath the hardcover's dust jacket, and it makes this one of the most attractive books in the King library.) As with many King tomes, it would benefit from some trimming; the tedious subplot involving Lisey's mentally disturbed sister Amanda never engaged me. With so much of Lisey's Story exploring the nature of love in a deep relationship, I'd wager that women tend to like this novel more than men do, and people interested in mental disorders may find it particularly entertaining. Even if it isn't interesting on the level of a Misery or The Shining, King is writing full throttle here, and readers would do well to partake.

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