I remember reading a long time ago, that Mark Twain, when he was 16, made a statement that his father was the dumbest man alive. But when he talked to his father when he was 20, it was amazing how much the old man had learned in four years.
This is not to say I ever thought my parents were stupid. In fact, they were smart when I was 16 and they are smart now as I am going on 37 (love you Mom and Dad, thanks for the Christmas hookup…hahaha).
Seriously, though. I read the Stephen King book Lisey’s Story about 8 years ago. I trashed it at the time. I thought it was awful and that King should have indeed, stayed retired from writing (love you Mr. King, thanks for all the book hookups…hahaha).
However, I have been making it a point to re-read certain books (not just King either) that I either loved or hated many years ago, to see what perspective my almost 37 year old self would have. Lisey’s Story was one book on my list. And I am glad that I took the time to read this work again with fresh eyes. My almost 37 year old self had a completely different view of things than silly, daft 28 year old me. And now wants to give silly, daft 28 year old me a good smack on the head for not taking the time to appreciate the finer things in life, like craft beer and Lisey’s Story.
Lisey’s Story is a complex novel that defies categorization, like much of King’s work. On one hand, it is a horror story. It does have monsters and some scary imagery. However, Lisey’s Story is a little more than a horror story. In his typical fashion, King also deals with “real world” topics, such as child abuse, marriage and fans that love a little too much. King is able to weave these topics into a story that also contains major elements of both horror and fantasy, and also make a good story with characters that we wind up emotionally invested in, along with settings that are both familiar and alien.
The book starts out with Lisey (Lisa) Landon attempting to sort and clean her late husband Scott’s study. In life, Scott had been a wildly successful writer, credited with several best selling novels. She also has to deal with some persistent admirers of his work, who want her to donate his unfinished work, as they are convinced that there is actually a book (or maybe two) buried in there, ready for posthumous publication, which would make someone rich. We also learn that Scott was relatively young when he passed away, and that Lisey is still processing his death, as Scott has only passed away 26 months prior. It is all ordinary and mundane…but not for long.
At the beginning of the book, we are also introduced to Lisey’s family. Lisey is the youngest of four children, all of whom are girls. King focuses on her relationship with all three siblings, but gives particular focus to Lisey’s sister Amanda. Amanda suffers from mental illness and is almost considered a “black sheep” in her family. We learn that Amanda is a “cutter”. In other words, she is given to self mutilation. She also appears to suffer from bouts of extreme depression. Lisey is tasked with keeping watch over Amanda, as she and Scott became very rich due to the success of his novels and can afford the best care. Lisey also seems to share a certain rapport with Amanda, and if often able to reach her when no one else can.
As the book progresses, we learn that Scott’s fans are an insistent bunch. In particular, Lisey is harassed by a man calling himself “Zach McCool.” As if that were not enough, Amanda experiences a severe decline in her mental health, becomes catatonic and needs to be hospitalized. This is very stressful for Lisey, and causes her to recall her years of marriage to Scott, and some interesting experiences.
Lisey begins to recall her years of marriage to Scott. We learn about how they met. We learn about their struggles and successes. We also learn that Scott was no ordinary man. This is where the supernatural part of the story comes into play. Scott (akin to many King characters), was possessed of extraordinary abilities. One of them was his writing ability. The other was his ability to transport himself to another world entirely. Scott nicknamed this world “Boo’ya Moon.”
We also learn that Scott suffered a horrendous childhood. Mental illness was rampant in his family. He grew up with a father who constantly abused Scott and his older brother Paul. Scott sought refuge in his relationship with Paul, who sent him on what they called “bool hunts” or a kind of scavenger hunt that consisted of riddles. Paul would then reward Scott with some small prize. Scott also sought refuge in the world of Boo’ya Moon. Scott used the world of Boo’ya Moon to escape (often with Paul) the horrible abuse brought on by his father. Scott also used the powers of Boo’ya Moon to heal the injuries that he and Paul suffered at the hands of his father. Scott’s childhood is somewhat bearable for a time, but only for so long. When Paul is ten years old, he succumbs to the insanity that runs in Scott’s family. Some sufferers become comatose and some sufferers turn into violent, non-human killing machines. Unfortunately, Paul becomes one of the latter varieties. He becomes a creature who does not recognize right from wrong, let alone his family members. He is unable to speak but instead communicates in animal like sounds. He also sets out to kill anything and anyone in his path. Unfortunately, this includes Scott and his father. The two attempt to restrain Paul and try to find a way to cure of the insanity. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Scott’s father euthanizes Paul in the same manner someone would euthanize a rabid dog that attacked a child. Scott then transports himself and his brother to Boo’ya Moon, in the hopes that he can possibly cure his brother. It turns out that he cannot, and Scott buries his brother in that other world.
Lisey notices that Scott is unusual even when they are dating. Scott is able to heal himself very quickly from a self inflicted, very nasty cut on his hand. Lisey notices that Scott appears to vanish, but chalks it up to a hallucination. Scott then demonstrates that he is in fact able to vanish, when he takes Lisey to Boo’ya Moon with him, proving that his abilities and the place are real. Lisey also learns that Scott has demons. As in actual demons, in the form of an otherwordly creature Scott calls the “long boy” or the “piebald creature.” This is the creature that would ultimately be responsible for Scott’s death. However, Boo’ya Moon brings mostly good things to their marriage. When Scott is shot by a deranged fan at a public speaking event, he is able to harness the powers of Boo’ya Moon and save himself from certain death. He is able to use those powers many times, although he does pay the ultimate price in the end.
We also learn that Boo’ya Moon seems to be a refuge of sorts for mentally ill people who have fallen comatose. Lisey learns this when Scott slips into catatonia about 8 years prior to his death. She must use Scott’s abilities (which have transferred to her) to make the journey to Boo’ya Moon and bring Scott back. She is successful, and Scott and Lisey enjoy a few more happy years together, and Lisey basically represses any memory of Boo’ya Moon and the strange incidents.
Lisey learns that Scott has basically left her a “bool hunt” upon his death. Lisey must learn how to harness the powers of Boo’ya Moon on her own, as Amanda’s health depends on it. And only the powers of Boo’ya Moon will rescue her from the rage what is turning out to be a very insistent, deranged fan. With a little help from her dead husband, and a lot of strength that she did not know she possessed, Lisey is able to rescue her comatose sister and dispatch of her late husband’s deranged fan, although she literally inherits Scott’s “long boy.” The book ends with a final trip to Boo’ya Moon, where Lisey discovers the prize at the end of the “bool hunt”: her husband’s accounting of what happened to his deranged father. Lisey reads Scott’s final words, and is able to put Scott to rest, along with the “long boy” (somewhat). She able to final clean out his study and donate his last work to the appropriate people, and achieves peace in her life and also with her family.
This time around, I felt there was a lot to love about Lisey’s Story. One of my favorite parts of the story was the detailing of Scott and Lisey’s relationship. King gives us intimate knowledge of Scott and Lisey’s marriage, which makes us become invested in the characters. When Lisey “inherits” Scott’s demons (the “long boy”), I saw that as a metaphor for taking on the burdens of a loved one, in much the same manner as Sam taking the Ring from Frodo in Lord of the Rings and carrying the burden, so that Frodo may achieve some peace. Lisey does take on many of Scott’s burdens (his demons, his troubled childhood, etc) but does so out of pure love for her husband. This gives great insight into both characters, especially Lisey, showing that she is more than just Scott’s wife, but actually his gatekeeper.
Stephen King often writes about mental illness. Lisey’s Story is a great example of his ability to deal with mental illness in a compassionate way. In particular, King does an excellent job of his depiction of Lisey’s sister Amanda. Amanda does not start off as a sympathetic character. She is seen as more of annoyance. However, this quickly changes, as King shows us the relationship between Amanda and Lisey. We slowly come to like Amanda on her own merits, as opposed to the fact that she is Lisey’s sister. We come to see Amanda as a fiercely loyal protector of Lisey, willing to do anything to protect her sister. Amanda also travels with Lisey to Boo’ya Moon, never doubting its existence and completely deferring to her sister so that both of their lives may be saved. Amanda is never shown as strong despite her “deficiencies.” Rather, her perceived deficiencies turn out to be assets.
While this was not a scary book, there were definitely elements of horror. For example, Scott describes Boo’ya Moon in detail. We are told that is a good place by day, but extremely dangerous at night. We are also told to never eat any of the fruit of Boo’yah Moon once night falls. Scott also describes the creatures that inhabit Boo’ya, calling them “laughers”. We also learn about Scott’s accidental trip to Boo’ya Moon at night, and his description confirms it is indeed a horrible place when the moon rises.
However, the most terrifying part of the novel to me was the “pie-bald creature” or “long boy.” At first I was reminded of the Purple People Eater…
But later I started thinking more in terms of Lovecraft and his horrifying creatures, and the closest I could come to seeing it in my mind’s eye was an image of a monstrous worm. Regardless, King’s description of the monster was very scary. We are told that the creature is also not necessarily limited to Boo’ya Moon, as Lisey begins to see it on reflective surfaces such as mirrors and drinking glasses, and begins to fear for her sanity and her life. It is implied that the monster has Lisey’s “scent” in much the same way a bloodhound can find a scent from a piece of old clothing and is therefore in its “thoughts.” Scott’s final bool hunt does bring some form of closure to this, but we are still left with the impression that Lisey’s trip to Boo’ya Moon and confrontation with this creature will have some disturbing long term consequences.
All monsters aside, King again displays his ability to juxtapose supernatural elements with familiar, everyday problems. As mentioned before, this book spends much time discussing mental illness, with its descriptions of Amanda, Scott’s father and Scott himself. King also dives into the issue of child abuse and the failures of adults to do right by their children. The descriptions of the abuse endured by Scott and his brother when they were children are horrifying, but also heart-breaking. Scott’s account of the murder of his brother and later his father are also harrowing, leaving us sad for what he endured as a child. As in his other works, King’s description of non-supernatural horrors add an element of realism to the story, reminding us that it is perfectly possible that there is a world not far from our own, where eating the fruit at night could kill us and that sometimes looking in mirrors is a task better not undertaken if we are smart.
Stephen King, its amazing how much you learned in eight years. Thank you for making this book so much smarter. And thank you for opening my eyes, yet again.
As most Constant Readers know, all of Stephen’s King books are connected and are part of a much larger universe. Lisey’s Story is no exception. I have listed the connections I found below:
-Andy Clutterbuck and Norris Ridgewick are mentioned multiple times in the book. Ridgewick and Clutterbuck appear as characters in the novel Needful Things.
-Scott Landon talks of “booming” or transporting to another world. The ability to teleport to other worlds is similar to Sheemie’s ability in The Dark Tower series.
-The effects of the insanity suffered by Scott and his family appear similar to the effects of the “secret electricity” discussed in Revival.
-The effects of The Pulse in Cell are also similar to the effects of the “secret electricity” and are similar to the insanity suffered by Scott’s family. This makes for an interesting connection between Cell, Lisey’s Story and Revival.
-The description of another world close to ours is similar to the description of the parallel world that is discussed in Revival.
-The “mother” creature in Revival is also somewhat similar to the “piebald creature” in Lisey’s Story.
-Scott describes “orbs of light” around the lake in Boo’ya Moon that are similar to balloons. This immediately brings to mind the balloons in the book It.
-A recurring theme in Lisey’s Story is the “bool.” I understood that the bool was a riddle, kind of similar to a scavenger hunt. Of course, readers of the Dark Tower series will remember that Blaine the Monorail, a character in that series, was very fond of riddles.
And if I may go deep into nerdy territory for a moment here (given the name of the blog, no one should be surprised at this). I believe that the term “bool” may actually be derived from the term “Boolean logic.” Boolean logic is a special kind of mathematics and has to do with logic. Logic is very important in computer science and is used widely in many other areas. Since Blaine was a sentient monorail created by computer programming, this is an extremely interesting parallel to the Dark Tower series, even if it is a bit indirect.