I’ve owned this book in hardcover since it was first published in 2006. Every once in a while over the last twelve years or so, I’ve looked at it and thought, oh I should read that, and then proceeded to not do that. This was in my college years, when I bought books a) Just because they were pretty, b) When I couldn’t afford them, and c) Indiscriminately, without doing any research about them. I had not read any Stephen King yet, at all, either, so yeah, let’s buy this expensive book (not even on sale!) and then not touch it for years. Good plan. (My first King would come in 2008. I read Cell, also while in this phase, and I did not like it. I did not read any more of his books until 2012.)
So basically I bought this because the marketing team sold the hell out of it. And also, lookie, this is what’s under the dust jacket:
I still to this day have a hard time resisting good marketing and a well-packaged hardcover book.
Okay, but the book. Which is bonkers? I can tell this is a very personal story for King. It’s one he wrote soon after his near fatal car accident, and its specific inspiration reportedly came when he walked in to his office upon coming home from the hospital to find most of his things boxed up (his wife Tabitha had been doing some redesigning) and he thought, so this is what it would look like in here if I died. That morbid thought launched this book, which is about the wife of a very famous author after he has died (and unlike King, his fictional author is a critically acclaimed and literary prize-winning one, which feels like a great middle finger to real critics and jury prize committees). It’s a book about mortality and marriage and sisterhood (of all things). It’s also in large part inspired by Tabitha herself, though it’s certainly not biographical.
Dear God, I hope not.
Lisey Landon has been okay for the past two years without her husband, Scott, said famous author. She’s finally ready to box up his things, and is preparing to donate most of them to some literary institute or other (scholars and such have been after her almost since he died to get after Landon’s papers). It opens rather quietly, actually, with Lisey and her mentally unstable sister, Amanda, cleaning out Scott’s study. King writes the narrative in a very close third person, so that we’re so far in Lisey’s head we sometimes don’t have context, and it takes a bit for some of her imagery and phrasing to make sense. We also learn most of what we need to know in halting flashbacks, as Lisey allows herself more and more to open up her memories and examine the past. And there are some incidents that have frightening relevance to her current situation. For the first third of the book or so, you think this is straight up lit-fic, until the WEIRDNESS begins to make itself known. It gets SUPER WEIRD. But that’s par for the course, for King. Here it felt more weird, I think, because for such a long time it felt so mundane, so normal, so banal in its scariness (death, loneliness, mental illness).
I think King did an excellent job putting this together. It’s structured impeccably, and its themes feel organic to his characters arcs and backstories. The problem that you might have, and which I had as well, is that part of the style of the book is that close third person, and Lisey and Scott have a very unique interior language to their marriage, that could very easily annoy the crap out of you. I found myself irritated on several occasions, especially near the beginning. They have a lot of catchphrases and alternate words they use, which all came out of the thirty plus years of their marriage, a shared vocabulary that not even we as readers are fully let in on, even by the end. At the same time, the book is so immersive. Even as you’re annoyed by it, it feels real.
And then there’s the weirdness, which I won’t spoil. I’ll just say that novel becomes as much horror by the end as it is lit-fic. It was weird and it genuinely terrified me.
One quibble. There’s this thing with one of the men who wants Scott’s papers. He sends someone to strongarm Lisey into handing them over, and the guy turns out to be a creepy, violent, stalker. In the midst of a book so full of thematic resonance, that character seemed like a pointless blip of violence. More motivating factor than character in himself, he existed more to move Lisey along than anything. But then, I’ve never been a famous author like Stephen King. I’m sure he’s had plenty of experiences with people on the fringes, stalkers and obsessives and overzealous fans, that it belongs in a story about what’s scary for a family of someone that well known.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]