Lisey's Story

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The favorite novel of the title character’s late husband was The Stars, My Destination (1956) by Alfred Bester, and his favorite film was The Last Picture Show (1971). The main premise of Bester’s science-fiction novel is that in the twenty-fifth century, most people will be able to teleport as far as one thousand miles away using mental powers that humans already possess, a technique that they call “jaunting.” Scott Landon was also able to “jaunte” (a word invented by Bester for his novel), although instead of other places in our world, he jaunted to a parallel world that he called Boo’ya Moon. On a few occasions, he took his wife Lisey along. After his death, she learns to “jaunte” there by herself. In The Last Picture Show, the character of Sam the Lion, as portrayed by Ben Johnson, functions as an anchor for the rest of the characters. In the same way, Lisey functions as the anchor for Scott and her sisters.

Long-time readers of Stephen King will notice that Lisey’s Story references his previous work in three ways, although a newcomer to his work will be able to enjoy it as well. First, one of the central characters is a best-selling novelist, which puts it in the tradition of The Tommyknockers (1987), ’Salem’s Lot (1975), Misery (1987), Bag of Bones (1998), and The Dark Half (1989). Unlike Misery’s Paul Sheldon and The Dark Half’s Thad Beaumont, who are embarrassed that their success in genre fiction overshadows their “serious” work, Scott does not appear to have been ashamed that his first books were marketed as genre fiction. In essence, he wrote what he wrote and let his agent and publisher worry about whether to market his fiction as horror, Magical Realism, dark fantasy, or whatever. Furthermore, Scott differs from the authors in those earlier novels in that he also had considerable critical success, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award.

One unfortunate aspect of this success is that academic scholars are pressuring Lisey for access to Scott’s papers at the start of Lisey’s Story. None of those scholars are portrayed in positive terms, which may be King’s revenge against his academic critics. Joseph Woodbury, an English professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Scott’s alma mater, inadvertently encourages former convict Jim Dooley to physically threaten Lisey. As a way of denigrating her, Woodbury compares Lisey to Yoko Ono, the widow of John Lennon whom fans of the Beatles blame for the group’s breakup. Roger Dashmiel, a professor at the fictional University of Tennessee>Nashville, is revealed to be a coward in one of the book’s many flashbacks.

Second, much of the story is set in the part of Maine around Castle Rock, a fictional town created by King, where he also set the novels The Dead Zone (1979), Cujo (1981), The Dark Half, and Needful Things (1991) as well as several works of short fiction such as the novella The Body (1982), which became the basis of the film Stand by Me (1986), and the short story “The Man in the Black Suit,” which won first prize in the O. Henry Short Story competition in 1996. In Needful Things, King destroyed the town, so by this time it must have been rebuilt. The Landons lived outside it, and their post office was there. King took the name of the town from Lord of the Flies (1954), by William Golding, King’s favorite book when he was growing up and the one book he has said that he wished he had written. Scott was originally from West Virginia but is the writer in residence at the University of Maine at Orono, King’s alma mater, when he meets Lisey, who was trying to work her way through college as a waitress. She is from the area around Castle Rock, specifically Lisbon Falls, where King went to high school, and they settled there so she could be near her sisters. They bought a farm with Scott’s earnings and converted the barn into a studio.

Third, King revisits the issue of fan violence, which he used to great effect in Misery. King himself has been the victim of stalkers, and on one occasion, his home was invaded. At a book signing in 1980, he met a young man named Mark David Chapman, who later became famous as the...

(The entire section is 1785 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The Atlantic Monthly 298, no. 4 (November, 2006): 125.

Booklist 102, nos. 19/20 (June 1-15, 2006): 6.

Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 12 (June 15, 2006): 594.

The New York Times 156 (October 23, 2006): E1-E12.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (November 12, 2006): 1-11.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 34 (August 28, 2006): 27.

USA Today, October 24, 2006, p. D1.