This is the last of the five World Fantasy Award finalists that I am reviewing. The only true stand-alone of the five, Stephen King's Lisey's Story is also the only story set in contemporary times. Whether this results in a greater sense of familiarity and an ability to relate well with the characters deals much more with the author's writing skills than it does with the milieu. Going into reading this story, I had some qualms about how well King might be able to pull off a complex and touching story without irritating me in the process. King has been such a hot and cold author, being the source of such outstanding shorter fiction such as "Children of the Corn" and "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," while some of his full-length novels (such as the latter Dark Tower novels) have been so dull and clunky that I have not managed yet to even attempt the sixth or seventh volumes in that series. Lisey's Story contains elements of both, as it alternately drew me in, only to then make me lose interest.
Lisey Landon's husband, Scott, was a world-famous author who has been dead for two years as the story opens. Lisey has not quite recovered from that and much of the first section of the book deals with her grief and the memories found within old clippings and photographs from their time living in Nashville before moving to Maine.
During this rather long exposition, the reader is introduced to Lisey's catatonic sister, Amanda,
as well as to various people associated with Scott's life and work, including some obsessive fans who may be modelled on King's own stalkers or perhaps on the infamous garbage-sifting "Dylanologists" that plagued singer/songwriter Bob Dylan for years in the late 1960s and 1970s. When Lisey discovers a "hidden" writing of Scott's and when Amanda starts speaking in a hauntingly familiar voice one night, it is the beginning of a supernatural thriller that draws them and those keenly interested in the sources for Scott's creativity into a terrifying past and a world whose dangers become very real for Lisey and others around her. But yet within this terror lies a story of an enduring love and in some senses, the ending returns to the opening section's meditation on love lost and turns it on its head. King thus takes the joke about playing a country song backwards and achieves something that may be appealing or frustrating to those reading this 513 page novel.
Lisey's Story has a rather "personal" style about it. Although told in third-person PoV, King's prose is very idiosyncratic in order to attempt to capture the "hidden" language of love and affection that Scott and Lisey shared during their 25 years of marriage. At times, this prose permitted closer understanding and connections with the characters, so in that sense, it worked. The end part, when Lisey has come to understand the quiet moments in Scott's life that he couldn't then begin to think of sharing with her when he was alive, was also written well.
Although I said above that the prose at times permitted the reader to draw closer to the characters, the style was a bit too much and became rather annoying. I believe that a more streamlined approach taken after the characters were established would have allowed for a smoother transition from the very long exposition stage into the series of conflicts that built up to the climax and then the resolution. It just wasn't a very exciting beginning and even in the end parts, there were times that I felt the pace was off, that it was taking too long to get to the point of the story. Although it didn't "ruin" the story for me, it certainly made it difficult at times to enjoy.
This simply was not one of King's best efforts. It was flawed, but at least it was flawed from trying to capture those "special moments" that loving couples share. As an ambitious near-failure, I would still rate it higher than those stories who just tell a well-written tale of nothing. But in a field in which each of the finalists is expected to showcase something remarkable within its pages, Lisey's Story is rather lacking. There are other books that should have received a WFA nomination over this one.