King of the Thrill...
Not So Thrilling In His Latest Quasi Literary Outing
You might be wondering where the old Stephen King ran off to at the start of his latest novel, Lisey's Story. Here the best-selling author, whose more than 40 books have attracted the love of legions and the ire of literary critics, takes as his subject not derelict spaceships or child-abducting clowns or phantom automobiles or telepathic teens on the rag or any of the traditional bric-a-brac we've come to know--and, in some cases, love--from this self-described literary equivalent of "a Big Mac and fries." Instead, his focus is the tender and troubled marriage between a best-selling author and his wife, the tenuous relationship between an artist and his creativity, and all the other highfalutin' themes we tend to divorce from genre fiction.
Just hold out for the dead cat stuffed into the mailbox on page 167. Returning to her house, Lisey Landon, widow of the deceased writer Scott Landon, reaches into her mailbox and, instead of letters, "touched something soft, furry, and wet. She screamed in surprise, yanked her hand back, saw the blood on her fingers, and screamed again, this time in horror." If this work, definitely one of the author's more mature outings, is about Lisey and her husband, the real marriage on display is that between the schlock of Stephen King the Boogeyman and the talent of Stephen King the Literary Writer.
Marginalized as most spouses of famous people are, Lisey remains haunted by her marriage two years after her husband's death. His spirit suffuses the empty study where he spent his days writing award-winning horror novels, and his voice flits in and out of her mind in the way that ghosts--especially King's ghosts--do. This is to say nothing of the stalker harassing her in the name of academia: a lunatic in the apparent employ of an university professor after the late Scott Landon's papers, the kind of madman whose Southern accent is as frightening as his skills with a can opener on human flesh.
All this frenetic activity seems in service to Scott's master plan: a treasure hunt for his wife to understand fully her husband and to embrace not only his childhood trauma but also the wellspring of his creative powers. Why he couldn't have just left her a memo is anyone's guess.
This wellspring, the cringingly titled Boo'ya Moon, is a magical world to which Scott teleports every now and again in order to find artistic inspiration, a dense, Oz-like woodland leading to a lake in which strangers wade to achieve a kind of divine inspiration. It's a cute idea, but not necessarily believable--as personal a place as this "word pool" is to both Scott and King, its fantastical elements just don't belong in the kind of domestic world in which he roots the story. In a work dealing with multiple planes of reality and distorted time frames, Lisey's Story all too unsuccessfully tries to be the best of both worlds. It would be more interesting to remain on planet Earth with Lisey and the scavenging academics and crazy fans and shadowy histories than to have her beam back and forth to Boo'ya Moon--see how hard it is to read that name seriously?--and run in fear from "the long boy," a cyclopean monstrosity that represents, well, who knows? Despite the silliness with which everything comes together to serve a grander purpose--as if King were channeling M. Night Shyamalan--the dominant partner in this marriage of a novel is undoubtedly its generic aspects.
If you want serious meditations on the creative act and the hysteria of fandom, you'd be better off with the far superior The Shining , Misery, and The Dark Half. Instead, read Lisey's Story for the dead cats, shadowy psychotics, and otherworldly monsters. When Lisey encounters "the long boy" during a climactic journey into her husband's mystery world, she sees "an opening in the meat of its vast questing blunt head and intuited that the things it took in through that vast straw of flesh did not precisely die but lived and screamed . . . lived and screamed . . . lived and screamed." You know after a description like that that someone's bound to be eaten--and two pages later, dinner is served. Now that's the Stephen King we know and love.