King Portrays Horrors of Interior Worlds

Alan Cheuse reviews Stephen King's latest novel, Lisey's Story, a haunting story about a woman and her late husband that touches on the emotional horrors of bereavement and otherworldly terrors.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL,host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Steven King's latest novel is hitting bookstores tomorrow. It's called Lisey's Story.

Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: In Lisey's Story, King mounts his drama on the life of Maine native Lisey Debusher Landon and her late husband, Scott Landon, an enormously popular and successful American novelist who has died about two years before the novel opens. As the novel opens, we learn a lot about the past. How Lisey met Landon at the state university and how she fell quickly for the long-haired amateur writer whose outrageous behavior and odd and private language grew out of his terrifying rural Pennsylvania childhood.

There he and his older brother, motherless and in the thrall of their violent and possibly even possessed father, lived a weird, isolated life. The boys are constantly threatened by the father who suffers from bouts of what he calls the bad gunky.

To get away from all this, Scott wills himself into an eerie, alternate universe, a place filled both with menace and solace that he calls Boo'ya Moon, where the red orange sky in the east and west deepens, we hear, to a weird greenish blue overhead, where murderous voices Scott knows as the Laughers scream in the fairy woods and a huge and ferocious other worldly monster he dubs as the Long Boy crashes through the trees.

From this strange and awful heritage, Scott fashions his life work and a marriage that becomes stronger and stronger over the years. In the wake of his demise, Widow Lisey finds in her memories of their life together, the strength to fend off the growing threat of sadness, trouble with her sisters and a dangerous plot to rest from her Scott's manuscripts and library.

Scott may in fact still be hanging around if Lisey's surmise about the weird vocalizations made by one of her sisters while sleeping proves correct. Certainly Scott is ever present in those memories, which King presents in a style that we might call something like Wal-Mart modernism, employing stream of consciousness, voices out of no where and overlapping scenes of past and present and King presenting all of this in the casual everyday language he's fashioned as his own distinctive voice.

Genteel readers are going to have to take a few leaps of faith to truly enjoy this novel splashed with blood and filled with glimpses of monsters. But here Steven King makes everything worthwhile from the emotional horrors of bereavement after long great love to the otherworldly terrors and pleasures of an extraordinary creation like the universe of Boo'ya Moon.

SIEGEL: The book is Lisey's Story by Stephen King. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia.

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