At first blush, LISEY'S STORY is not your daddy's Stephen King. To be sure, there are initial hints of things that go bump, but it's not like THE SHINING, SALEM'S LOT, or even CELL. If, as King has said, MISERY was his love letter to fans, LISEY'S STORY is a love letter to his wife, written from the perspective of his death. This is not an easy concept to get your head around at first. But if you're willing to invest time and attention to what King seems to consider his penultimate work, then at the very least you will encounter a beautifully told tale that is worth your time, energy and money.
There was a point very early on when it looked to me as if LISEY'S STORY was going to be King's major attempt at non-genre fiction, and I almost stopped reading. There are two protagonists herein: Lisey Debusher Landon and her husband of a quarter-century, Scott. In the "now" of LISEY'S STORY, Scott, an award-winning author, has been deceased for two years, and Lisey has multiple balls in the air: her relationship with each of her somewhat batty sisters, pressure from a pushy academic type to gain access to Scott's trove of papers, and her own grief. As I started to set aside this weighty tome, I thought, "More John Irving than John Saul, aha!" There's nothing wrong with books of domestic matters, of course; they're just not my cup of tea.
But I didn't give up, and as the novel progressed, I discovered that there is much more to LISEY'S STORY than domestic drama. A great deal of this tale consists of flashbacks concerning the long course of the Landons' courtship and marriage, and we ultimately come to know Scott, who is much more than a wonderful husband and wordsmith. Scott has secrets, not the least important of which is his ability to "heal quick," his "books" and his love for Lisey. Maybe the latter isn't much of a secret at all, because Scott --- even before his untimely death --- saw things coming for Lisey and set about providing for her.
What did he see coming? Well, it's not a clown under a bridge or a pyrokinetic teenager or even a nasty disease transmitted over a cell phone. No, it's something much worse: a living, breathing nightmare made of flesh that is out there right now, a walking waste of skin looking for a victim even as I type. And it is after Lisey. But Lisey has help, and not just from her deceased husband. She will have to go to some immeasurable lengths in order to obtain it.
LISEY'S STORY is perhaps allegorical in some ways and deeply personal in others. Scott bears no small resemblance to King's template, and there are no doubt some other real-world comparisons to be made between this fine work's characters and people in King's life. I will leave the deep analysis of this to others more informed than myself on such matters. As for LISEY'S STORY, I am glad I kept reading. What higher praise is there than that? While it is not my favorite King novel --- that remains MISERY, for personal reasons --- it is probably his best written.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 11, 2011