Stephen King is remarkable for his ability to make banal, everyday things seem horrifying: cars, cell phones, dogs, you name it. With Lisey's Story, he uses the same old trick, only here he turns a gentler pen to more ambitious subjects (creativity, love) and the scope of the book expands accordingly.
Lisey is a middle-aged widow, still grieving after the death of her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Scott Landon. When a crazy man begins stalking Lisey because he wants access to Scott's unpublished manuscripts, Lisey turns to her husband's memory for help.
The crazy stalker gives the novel what real-time narrative impetus it has, but most of the novel consists of a series of flashbacks to Lisey's relationship with her husband. Scott's creativity was linked to his ability to travel to an alternate reality, called Boo'ya Moon, where both wonderful and terrifying things lurk. Lisey must now go there herself, in order to both understand her husband and save herself. As she puts together the pieces of Scott's past, a disturbing portrait emerges, of a man teetering between genius and madness, and the measures he had to take in order to live and love normally.
The first few chapters of the book are, frankly, insufferable. Lisey and Scott share a private, baby-talk language consisting of phrases like "bad gooky," "bool," and, most irritatingly, "smuck" instead of "fuck." Linguistic innovation is one thing, but King's baby talk never pays off; readers of Lisey will just have to grit their teeth and bear it. You get used to it eventually, and it's worth it, because underneath the veneer of nonsense language is a touching, troubling novel.
Lisey is a great character, smart and well drawn and easy to root for, and her journey to understand her husband's death unfolds in an elegant procession of flashbacks and memories. While there are certainly elements of the horrific here (my reading of the novel stalled for a full day because I couldn't get past one gruesome episode in which Lisey is assaulted with a can opener), Lisey is ultimately a love story about two flawed people who make life worthwhile for one another. Not scary, maybe, but worthwhile all the same.