Oh, Stephen King, I wish I knew how to quit you. Even when you give me this bizarre, often-irritating mess of a book, I still find things to like about it. And I know I'll still read whatever you write, even when I (and pretty much the entire world) have a feeling that maybe you should have stopped a long time ago.
Lisey's Story is a strange soup made up of a confusing mix of the ingredients Stephen King loves and that we long-time readers are all too familiar with: There's the story told from a lonely woman's perspective; a woman who is so normal she's almost dull. The dead husband, who (of course) was a famous author. Their loving relationship and his dark past. The Maine setting. And as always, a sprinkling of the supernatural--in this case, a very convenient parallel world that only very special people can travel in and out of with relative ease. As usual with King, most of the ingredients work for most of the book, up until the end when they start to go a little stale.
Lisey is a fairly dull woman who lost her husband, Scott (a famous writer), a couple of years ago. She's finally going through his effects after being pushed to it by former peers of her husband who want any unwritten material he might have left behind. As she goes through his papers, she finds herself reliving moments in their life, including some very dark memories that she has blocked out of her mind. She then discovers that before his death, Scott left behind a trail of objects and papers that would take her further and further back into his very dark past and make her remember all those suppressed memories. It's like a miserable scavenger hunt, that Scott calls a 'bool' for some unexplained reason (more on this later). Lisey follows along, mostly because she doesn't have much of anything else to do.
It's actually all pretty interesting stuff to read--up until the point where King's train goes off the believable trail and crashes into that damned parallel world that he's so fond of. I would try to explain the parallel world here, but it would spoil the story for those who might consider reading it. And to be perfectly honest, it just doesn't make much sense at all. It actually ends up seeming like nothing more than a convenient device that makes plot points easy to resolve--as if King couldn't think of a good way for Lisey to solve her problems. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes the story veers into outright silly territory because of it.
One of the things I've always loved about King is that he writes believable, relatable characters. He's great at giving his characters a voice, so that you feel like you know them after only a few pages. Often, he does this by giving the characters cutesy little sayings like the kind your elderly aunt uses, and it works pretty well most of the time. But in this case, I just found this irritating. It's true that married couples often use cute little nicknames for things, little in-jokes that only the two can understand, and I get that using them in a story is a good way to draw a realistic couple. But Lisey and Scott are just ridiculous. Every damned thing has a cute little nickname, and I just found myself thinking that I would probably hate the living guts out of Scott if I ever met him. Sure, it might be cute between the two of you, but I don't want to hear the stupid little name you have for going to the toilet. No one does. Keep that stuff to yourself.
The weird thing is, I don't remember disliking the book this much while I was reading it. I know that the nickname thing did irritate me, and that the parallel universe seemed ridiculous as I read. But Lisey's actual trip back through her memories is actually a pretty good read--it's just that it's sprinkled throughout with all these annoying little details that take you away from the story, and that, when you think about them at the end, make you realize that the book was kind of a mess. And I haven't even gone into the superfluous subplots (Lisey's sister, the psychotic fan) because they seem to be part of a completely different story. I feel that, had King stuck to the one story of Lisey and Scott (and maybe a better version of the parallel world) the book would have been infinitely better. But, as is usual with him, he just has to keep adding more and more elements to the book, so that it ends up being a bloated, unappetizing mess. In the end, I liked some of it. Most of it I didn't, and once again I got the feeling that it could have been a better book if he had spent a little more time on it. One of King's problems is that he writes so much that a lot of his books don't read like he's put a lot of effort into them. And this was one of those.
So, unless you're a die-hard fan of Stephen King like I am, I'd recommend skipping this book. We die-hards will indulge him in all his weirdnesses and continue to read him even after he irritates us, but someone else might not be so kind. While I go "oh, another parallel universe? OK, then" someone else might just think the whole thing is ridiculous and stop reading the book. And that would probably be a smart move in this case. At least you'll be spared the disappointment.
It's not a very healthy relationship, mine and King's. But I can't quit it. There's always the hope of something better coming along the way, even if I have to put up with a lot of crap along the way.