Tracing The Trails : Lisey’s Story
Howdy gang! Since this will be a new feature for Machine Mean, I thought I would give a little background to this. Several years ago, I began this project online, Tracing The Trails Of The King. I made the decision to commit to reading all of Stephen King’s books, in order of publication, to get a sense of how his style has developed over the years. As I read them I would also write reviews of each book.
When I started, I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it through to the end of the project. But I sit here today, a mere five books away from the end of King’s bibliograpy. Frankly, I feel pretty good about the fact that my reading pace has been able to keep ahead of the reviews being posted.
In the beginning, I was only posting once a month but this gradually became bi-monthly and several months ago I made the decision to start posting reviews every Monday. I will put the reviews here, on Machine Mean as well for anyone who might be interested.
Starting off for this week is my review of Lisey’s Story, one of the more contested books of Stephen King’s catalog.
Thanks for your interest and I’ll see you here, next week!
When I started this project, several years ago, obviously there were a large number of Stephen King’s books which I had not read yet. In fact I would say that I had probably read a little more than half of his total output. But of those unread books, Lisey’s story is one in particular for which I had the most apprehension going in.
For various reasons I won’t get into, I don’t really do the online groups anymore when it comes to fans. But for a while, I did engage with various communities of Constant Readers and one consistent title seems to come up over and over as one which his fans were most disappointed with. And that would be Lisey’s Story. I didn’t know anything about what the book was about, just that it seemed to be one of his less popular endeavors.
And as I started reading, I really did try to keep an open mind. There is a part of me that wanted to come back to this review reporting that in actuality the book is pretty good, that the reports I had gotten of its failure to engage and entertain were grossly over exaggerated.
Sadly, this is not really the case for me.
And I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that King did anything wrong or did a bad job with this book, just that I didn’t connect with it. I could tell that this was personal for King and I suspect that he was trying to do more then simply tell a story. As such, I can only hope that in the end he accomplished what he had intended when he began.
I have seen two stories behind this book, both of which could be true. According to one, King returned from his extended hospital stay following his car accident to find his study in disarray. He and his wife had discussed modifying the work space to accommodate his new physical needs but evidently the experience for him was like finding out what his study might look like after his own death.
I have also read that King wrote this largely for his wife, Tabitha. I am unable to imagine what life would be like for an artist who achieved so much public recognition. But being the spouse of that person is equally out of reach from my understanding. I would imagine that being the wife of Stephen King comes with a truck full of baggage and that’s not even taking into account however much extra work she had to put in, dealing with his substance abuse issues.
Lisey’s Story is a bit of a strange one for me. I think that there’s something good in there, it just all feels a bit confused and lost. Lisey, the main character, is trying to confront and deal with emerging memories of her dead husband, a husband who happens to have been a very successful novelist. The story takes place in two sections that are intertwined. We have the story of the young couple when they meet and fall in love. The second is the story of Lisey in the present as she tries to deal with her sister’s declining mental health as well as the threats from a fan of her husband who is threatening to hurt her if she doesn’t hand over some unpublished material.
I kind of wish the book had chosen to be one or the other. The story of Lisey meeting her husband and their earlier lives together incorporates some more fantastical, magical elements that I felt were kind of lost in the overall, grand structure of the story. It was a feeling I remember having when I read Rose Madder. I wish that the fantasy elements had been given a more prominent role in the book or simply none at all. I also think it could have been a potentially gripping story to simply deal with a wife trying to stave off an obsessed and maybe dangerous fan of her husbands. I think that is a story King could have done effectively. And inversely, I think that if he had told the flashback portions as its own separate book, he could have lent more emotional weight to both their relationship as well as the other-worldly elements. Perhaps if this had been published as two separate novellas, it could have worked better.
All throughout reading this, I kept catching myself referring it as “Lisey’s Game”, as I was morphing it in my head with Gerald’s Game. I was kind of perplexed as to why I kept making the mistake. To be honest, even as I write this review I find that I have to consciously slow my recitation down in my head to make sure I say the correct title. I took it originally as a simple slip, a mash-up of two similar sounding books. Now I kind of wonder if there is more to it. In a way, I feel like Lisey’s Story doesn’t have as distinctive of an identity as other King books and as a result, it doesn’t stand out in my head as much. Maybe this is my own subconscious trying to get something across to me.
Still, all of this is completely arbitrary. The thing about personal stories is that it is going to depend largely on the person reading it. This story might not work for me but I know there are plenty of readers who will engage with and relate to the content. As I said, I think there is a great story in there, there was just too much in the end for me to work through in order to find it. Plenty of other readers will be better and more effective at making that journey than I was and I would encourage you to undertake it and see for yourself.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.