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
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