'Lisey's Story' by Stephen King

A return to form for King

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The day Stephen King finds himself on a coroner's table awaiting an autopsy, the caretakers of Literature would do well to be in the room. While prolificacy is no art -- and no author is more prolific (more than 40 novels and 200 short stories in just three decades) -- the inner workings of King's brain must surely reveal a heretofore undiscovered or mutated neuron that accounts for his endless font of stories.



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"LISEY'S STORY"
By Stephen King.
Scribner ($28)

As a storyteller, he has no peer. That's not to say every story is a gem; his recent body of work ("Dreamcatcher," "From a Buick 8," "Cell") had grown self-derivative, almost tedious, and failed to add jewels to his crown. But with "Lisey's Story" (in stores today), that crown boasts another diamond. This is an imaginative, emotional book as easily defined by grace as by terror.

The trademark terror is there, of course, yet King's novel is a love story at heart.

Lisey Landon is the widow of renowned author Scott Landon. Married 25 years, Scott succumbed to cancer two years ago, leaving a Maine studio full of papers, unpublished short stories and a manuscript or two. His body of work earned him a Pulitzer, a National Book Award and the kind of fame that is magnetic to would-be assassins like David Hinckley and Mark David Chapman.

Lisey (lee-see) knew that all too well. Sixteen years before Scott died, he'd cheated Death's initial overture at a library groundbreaking when Gerd Allen Cole aimed a pistol at his chest and pulled the trigger. A second shot was disrupted when Lisey swung a ceremonial silver spade into Cole's face. It bought her husband time enough to write seven more novels and seal a love for the ages.

Now that Scott's gone, Lisey guards his work from the literary hounds nipping at her heels. Still in the throes of grief, manifested in open dialogue with the deceased, she's not yet ready to allow their greed to exploit his unpublished works.

Associated Press
Author Stephen King
Click photo for larger image.

Mystery Writers to honor King

He hasn't won -- and probably never will -- a Pulitzer or National Book Award, a la Scott Landon in his new book, "Lisey's Story," but Stephen King has been chosen to receive the Grand Master Award by Mystery Writers of America.

The annual award, to be presented to King in April, represents the "pinnacle of achievement in the mystery field," according to a statement by the organization.

"As Grand Master, Stephen King is the natural successor to Edgar Allan Poe," said Reed Farrel Coleman, executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America. "King is that rare jack of all trades who masters all he attempts. He is a fearless writer."

The award announcement comes as King's new book -- more love story than horror novel -- hits book store shelves today.

"I'm delighted to be getting the Grand Master Award and to be joining the company of some of my greatest idols and teachers -- people like John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain and Donald E. Westlake," said King. "The award means a great deal to me personally, because it's an award from people who understand two things: the importance of good writing and the importance of telling stories."

-- Allan Walton

As with any rock star, death is only the beginning of his career, and the unscrupulous fan and academic alike are akin to sharks feasting on chum.

One of those, Joseph Woodbury, is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Scott's alma mater. While Lisey abhors him, in time Woodbury is revealed to be less a threat than one Zach McCool (an alias), who begins to terrorize her, first by phone, then as stalker and, ultimately, in a vicious encounter.

All the while, Lisey -- in imagined conversation with Scott (often through her mentally impaired sister, Amanda), reflection on their life together and through the work left in his studio -- begins an emotional descent into the demons that haunted her husband.

She journeys to a place Scott called Boo'ya Moon, where happiness and horror are entwined. It was an alternate universe for Scott, with a language all its own. Words like "bool," "suck oven," "bad-gunky" and "sowista" enter her lexicon, and she begins to understand what Scott meant when he told her "lunacy and the Landons go together like peaches and cream."

All of this serves to reveal not just Lisey's unwavering devotion to her late husband, but to an inner strength that, metaphorically, helps deliver her from the torment of widowhood. Once in the shadow of her partner's fame, she survives his death and the despair that forged him to become a heroine in her own right.

It is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming, and defines King's novel -- which he has insisted in interviews is neither autobiographical nor merely a mash note for his author wife, Tabitha, to whom the book is dedicated -- as something other than just another macabre tale.

As with all of his work, King makes numerous pop culture allusions that play like candy to his legion of fans. The music of THE Hank Williams (not Junior, and certainly not Hank III) is referenced periodically, as are other songs, novels and poems that he writes about in an author's statement at book's end.

And sure to be of local interest are several Pittsburgh and regional references that catch the eye, even if one of them is geographically wrong -- a remark about a trip "down to The Burgh" from West Virginia.

Also, the book jacket includes a glowing testimonial from Michael Chabon, who lauds "Lisey's Story" thusly: "I have never been more persuaded than by this book of [King's] greatness."

That may be an overstatement, but he isn't far off. "Lisey's Story" is proof that The King isn't ready for that autopsy. Not by a long shot.


Post-Gazette Features Editor Allan Walton can be reached at awalton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1932.


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