Friday, 11 June 2010

"Lisey's Story" by Stephen King

When I was 12, I read almost everything Stephen King had ever written. His work was (and is) imaginative, but accessible. He spins a web of simple words, drawn from music, movies, books, but always combined in novel ways. His books were filled with memorable (but flawed) protagonists and sinister, sometimes leering villains. They were a quick and enjoyable read, comfort food, but eventually, I moved on to other reading interests (mainly science fiction, graphic novels, and mainstream literature).

Recently, on a visit with my mother, she played part of the audiobook of "Lisey's Story" as we drove around. I enjoyed Mare Winningham's narration, and had a kind of itch to hear the rest of the story. I just finished reading "Lisey's Story" from cover to cover, and wasn't disappointed.

One of my favorite parts in any Stephen King novel is the way he establishes a unique vocabulary. Each character has their own way of speaking, built from their own life experiences. I especially like how words pass between characters in King's writing. Sisters share phrases from their childhood. A husband and wife evolve almost their own private language based on years of using their own pat phrases with each other. When you use the same words, on some level you think the same way. The shared language of husband and wife is really a sign of the depth of their relationship, and the intimacy they share. King also knows how strongly words evoke memories, and Lisey is never more than an uttered (or misheard) phrase away from her past.

I also like King's shifting narratives. Often, his books cover multiple characters, and we alternate between them (as in "The Stand"). In books like "The Dark Tower" and "Talisman" (with King and Peter Straub), the story is divided between two worlds. "Lisey's Story" is split into four worlds. At first, the story stays firmly in Lisey's present as the recent widow of a famous writer. Over time, we jump back and forth between the couple's shared past and the present alternately. Eventually, the story encompasses another fantastic world, one of imagination. As we start to experience this world, the story moves between the present reality, the past reality, and the past fantastic. At the climax of the book, the story shifts so quickly that chapters are often only a paragraph in a single mode before moving on.

"Lisey's Story" is a good book, nuanced and fresh comfort food that's grown up quite a bit. When I stopped reading Stephen King, he was two books into "The Dark Tower" series. After a long hiatus, the series is now a lot further along. I'll have to pick them up soon and continue rediscovering the ever-evolving comfort food that is Stephen King.

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