Lisey is a middle-aged woman whose husband Scott was a famous writer. When the story begins, Scott has been dead for two years. Lisey is a reader, not a writer, but Scott’s writing is nipping at her heels in the form of academics and fans who want his papers, stalker fans, and the very real fantasy land from which Scott drew his inspiration, which Lisey once visited, and which she may need to visit once again.

The book interweaves the present-day story of Lisey, widowed but not alone (she has sisters) with the story of their marriage. I was all ready to say, “This book really isn’t horror at all and people who aren’t into horror might really like it,” but then I hit a horrific act of violence (not lethal, but seriously wince-inducing) and also Scott’s childhood turns out to be pure horror in both the abuse and fantasy sense, so I guess not. It’s mostly not horror, though.

King is often autobiographical, though in that odd way of fantasy writers in which either completely real incidents or characters are dropped into contemporary fantasy, or by metaphor, so that drug addiction might appear as addictive and destructive alien powers. King additionally often has writer characters who seem based on himself to some degree or other, and not always flatteringly; I am pretty sure I’ve read him saying that the most autobiographical character in The Stand is Harold Lauder. (Harold isn’t a villain, exactly, but he’s villain-ish, and about the opposite of a Marty Stu.)

Lisey’s Story is about what might have happened to King’s wife if he’d been killed in that bizarre van accident. (His memoir/how-to On Writing, which I highly recommend, contains a vivid account of that.) Sort of. If the van accident had been a shooting by a crazed fan or a weird illness, and if he’d had a childhood that was not only horrific but magically weird, and if his stories were partly drawn from a real fantasyland he can visit. And, of course, Lisey isn’t really his wife and her sisters, who play a major role, aren’t really her sisters. But I have a feeling that to some degree, they are. And that their marriage, which is largely mediated by a shared language of words and sayings, both is and isn’t their real marriage. Lisey’s Story is an extremely real-feeling book, even for King, who built his career on making the fantastical real and grounded and specific.

It’s a book about grief, but not about the initial shock, which is most commonly written about; this is about grief that’s been lived with and adjusted to and become familiar, that’s starting to heal at the same time that it’s finally sunk in that someone you loved is really gone and that is a wound will never really heal. It’s a book about marriage, and the intimacy of years and years together. It’s a book about language and storytelling; Scott’s writing is important but the language he and Lisey use with each other, the mortar and bricks of their relationship, is even more important. It’s a book about family— Lisey’s sisters are much more prominent in the narrative than I expected.

But most of all, it’s about Lisey. All things considered, I expected the story to be more about Scott, but it really is Lisey’s story, even though he’s the one with the fame and the magic. But Lisey has grit and practicality and her own creativity, though it’s not of the artistic sort, and she plows through stalkers, grief, family troubles, crazed fans, and a fantasy world with a stubborn determination that made Scott love her, kept her with him when another woman might have fled screaming, and just might defeat some very serious opponents.

I loved Lisey and I loved the metafictional nature of the book. The very first chapter is about how Lisey got erased from a news article about Scott— she was incredibly heroic, but the male journalist ignored her, credited her heroism to some random dude, and the photo shows nothing of her but the heel of her shoe. The rest of the book is about putting Lisey back in the story, but in a way that she wants— not as a flashy hero in the eyes of the world, but doing what needs to be done and is important to her, in her own way.

I’ve never been married, but I’ve seen a lot of married couples and observed how they often do seem to have their own language. This was the first book that made me feel like I got what it felt like to be in that sort of relationship and have that language. (Some of the language is silly or annoying, but mostly in the way that couple’s and family’s language and in-jokes really are silly and annoying to outsiders— it captured a real thing that I haven’t seen most fiction even attempt.) Similarly, the sisters’ relationships were also very real-feeling in a way that, again, was of great interest to me because I don’t have siblings. As a whole, the book is more about intimacy than it is about fantasy worlds and monsters and stalkers— the latter (especially the stalker) are more sizzle than steak.

That being said, warning for horror elements and one moment of cringey violence. Also, it deals with mental illness in a way that’s sometimes realistic and sometimes fantastical/metaphoric and sometimes both. I’m happy to discuss any of that or anything else about the book in comments, so general warning for spoilers in comments.

I liked the book a lot and it made me want to catch up on King’s later work. I haven’t read any of his other more recent books, so feel free to rec anything within the last 20 years or so.

Lisey's Story
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

I'm having bad menstrual cramps and can't brain that well (I probably shouldn't be sitting up at this point) but this really zeroes in on a lot of why I loved the book.

Sadly not a lot of recent King has grabbed me except Dr Sleep, which is the sequel to The Shining but _very_ different and has a lot about addiction and recovery in it. I liked it a lot.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

....I dunno how it will strike you but The Shining creeped me out SO BAD the first time I tried to read it, I couldn't finish it and stuffed the silvery paperback in the trash, and then had was still so freaked out I had to carry it out to the dumpster. (I think King would be complimented by this. "I freaked someone out that bad? SCORE!") I did read it years later and was even more freaked out but managed to stay with it. It's not at all like the movie, it is a horrifyingly (hah) good portrayal of active addiction and fucked-up family systems and it made me horribly nervous around topiary sculptures for years. It's really good, but not a book of his I tend to reread.

Dr Sleep is pretty different -- it has one of King's very few major gay characters, for one thing, who's really great although she's a villain type (this is not a spoiler), it's from Danny's POV and is more about recovery etc.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

Shining is definitely more horror, but it's also got that really personal basis in family and kind of reminded me of Pet Sematary in tone, if that makes sense. Dr Sleep has horror elements, but I thought it was more like Lisey's Story -- it's more supernatural and reality-based, although there are horrific things in it.
gehayi: (Default)

From: [personal profile] gehayi

I absolutely hated this book because of a gimmick associated with it--the journals of Lisey's husband being printed in a way that made them look handwritten...and against a gray background. It was unreadable--and you can't follow the book without the info in the journals. It's not possible. So this remains the one book by King that I can't read.
gehayi: (Default)

From: [personal profile] gehayi

I tried it in hardcover and Kindle and ran into the same problem. I'm glad it was fixed in the paperback edition.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

ARGH! It wasn't that way in my paperback. That would be unreadable for me too.
yhlee: Flight Rising Spiral dragon, black-red-gold (Flight Rising Jedao baby Spiral)

From: [personal profile] yhlee

Okay, so because this is me, what really interests me is the moment of cringey violence. If you feel like spilling, I want to hear about that. :D

(Also, the dragon has written you a letter, I just need to get it into the post.)
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))

From: [personal profile] yhlee

Ugh, that does sound cringey. But then, I expect a certain amount of freak-out value from a King novel and I haven't even read more than two of them...(Needful Things and the dragon sand one that was a fantasy novel).

Thanks for satisfying my curiosity! This does sound interesting and I bet my library has it, if only I could ever dig my way out of this pile of books at home. :p
yhlee: Flight Rising Spiral dragon, black-red-gold (Flight Rising Jedao baby Spiral)

From: [personal profile] yhlee

I liked Eyes of the Dragon precisely because it was a fantasy with horror elements. Needful Things was meh. Oh--I think I've also read some of King's shorts, which were also meh in general. We'll see!
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rosefox

I loved loved loved this book and should reread it.
cereta: Rose Madder (Rose Madder)

From: [personal profile] cereta

My love for King is no secret (I have a tattoo of the Turtle on my wrist), and one of the things I love most is that when someone pointed out that he wasn't great at writing adult women, he took the feedback and worked on it. Some of his attempts were hit or miss, but I think that Lisey's Story shows his progress.

I suspect, btw, that his daughter being a lesbian inspired him to make the same effort for gay characters. There's a major gay character is Cell, too.

(Also, I teach The Shining in my summer lit class, and definitely think you should read it, and Doctor Sleep. ;)
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

I stalled out totally on Lisey's Story, 60 pages from the end, and although it was largely me rather than the book (moving house, earthquakes, anxiety attacks, etc etc) it took me a while to start reading him again. I definitely second all the people telling you to read The Shining (I was not so impressed by the sequel, as the villains didn't work for me).

I have really enjoyed the first two in his recent Bill Hodges detective series trilogy, Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers. (3rd one out very soon!). The second in particular is a masterclass in building and sustaining tension, and the McGuffin is the notebooks containing the manuscripts of two unpublished novels in a critically acclaimed series. 11.22.63 has some great bits and I love time loop stories, but it is a bit long and the ending didn't entirely work for me. I also really enjoyed his recentish novella collection, Full Dark, No Stars.
rydra_wong: Text: BAD BRAIN DAY. Picture: Azula, having one. (a:tla -- bad brain day)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong

I'm always filled with delight when I see you've posted a book review. Thank you, this sounds fascinating.

Also, it deals with mental illness in a way that’s sometimes realistic and sometimes fantastical/metaphoric and sometimes both. I’m happy to discuss any of that or anything else about the book in comments

Please tell me it doesn't do the appalling thing where you have to stop taking the evil zombiefying psych meds in order to access your psychic powers/perceive magic/whatever.

I would hope not, but I'm grumpily paranoid about that one.
sputnikhearts: (Default)

From: [personal profile] sputnikhearts

I'm way too much of a coward for much horror, but I appreciate it being well done ... from a distance. This sounds great and you also inspired me to actually read "On Writing", which is great so far. So, thank you!
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

I read the book in French translation and I enjoyed it, although I felt it ran too long.

From: [identity profile]

I liked Joyland quite a bit. Something of a throwback on multiple levels but an enjoyable one.

Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is well worth reading and creepy as hell if you haven't checked that out yet.

From: [identity profile]

Lisey's story came out 6 months after my Mom died (almost to the day) and for that reason I almost picked it up out of a weird somewhat morbid curiosity. In the end I didn't because there's always that one scene in a King book that turns my stomach (to varying degrees, depending on the book) and I was afraid things were still a bit raw. I'm still curious, though.

From: [identity profile]

i really loved this book too, the intertwined, growing nature of it. and lisey, too - she didn't get buried under the complexities of scott's narrative, and that was... a high peak. and this fantasy world of their, beautiful and just a bit off the path of sanity, and just so - vibrant.

(this whole sequence with the stalker in the middle was TERRIFYING, though. i appreciated how non-titillating it was, but still, auuuuuuuuuuuurgh).

i think i've enjoyed doctor sleep (a sequel to shining) the most out of last things i've read.

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