Friday, August 07, 2015

Stephen King: Lisey's Story (2006)

When Stephen King was asked two years ago which of his many novels was his favourite, he answered, without hesitation or qualification: Lisey's Story. He gave the same answer this summer, when asked which of his books was "the most personally meaningful".

King: "I've always felt that marriage creates its own secret world, and only in a long marriage can two people at least approach real knowledge of each other. I wanted to write about that, and felt that I actually got close to what I really wanted to say." The jacket states the book deals with "the wellsprings of creativity, the temptations of madness, and the secret language of love".

Because of this, and because it concerns the widow of a famous horror novelist, and because of a Reddit comment - "Lisey's Story is really kind of an exploration of himself ... the dark places where his fame and talent came from" - I was quite curious about it.

However, I am giving up on the book about halfway through. One of the subplots has potential - a small-time hood is threatening Lisey Landon, demanding she give her late husband's papers (the award-winning author Scott Landon) to a certain university professor - but I'll have to look online to see how that turns out.

King's annoying writing tics have ruined whatever enjoyment I could get from the last few novels in this project. Has an editor ever told him that he's using a certain tic over and over and over, and some of them should be cut? Back in the 1980s, when he was consumed by his various addictions and was the most successful writer in the world, he wrote whatever the hell he wanted. No editor could tell him anything. And although King has been clean for quite awhile, perhaps things never changed.

In an afterword to this novel, King mentions his editor by name and says she marked the hell out of his manuscript. He even offers to show readers some pages if they disbelieve him. The manuscript may have been marked up, but who knows if King overruled the suggested changes.

The tic in Lisey's Story is when King alludes to some expression in a parenthetical, and notes where the character got it from, or mentions a different saying by some other person. An example: "King's writing tics really annoy me (they grind my gears, as the saying goes)." Or: "I was familiar with the situation. I had been around the block, as my father would have said."

Is this King's way of being folksy? Maybe he felt it reinforced the theme of a secret language and phrases used within the world of a marriage. As I kept reading along, half of my mind was waiting for the next example of this annoyance. I never had to wait very long. King starts doing it in the book's second paragraph:
None of Lisey's sisters was immune to the pleasures of setting the cat among the pigeons ("stirring up a stink" had been their father's phrase for it ...) (page 3)

Her husband had headed south from Rumford, where they had been living ("like a couple of wolverines caught in a drainpipe," Scott said ... (4)

They hadn't been clear on that at first; they weren't down with it, as the saying was. (5)

The man had passed on, as the saying was ... (11)

If he was, she'd meant to be there when he stepped out. When he Went, as the folks of her mother and father's generation would have said. (23)

Very zen, grasshoppah, Scott might have said. (24)

--Broken glass in the morning, broken hearts at night. That was Granny D's scripture, all right ... (30)

... speaking in his new whispering, effortful voice, sometimes just enough is just enough. As the saying is. (30)

... where the new library would stand (the word is pronounced LAH-bree in Dashmiel-ese). (31)

When he's like this, Scott could sell Frigidaires to Inuits, as the saying is ... (37)

Scott Landon hits the deck, as the saying is. (45)

And she supposes she does know some of it. The long boy, he calls it. (49)

What was old Dandy's saying? I didn't fall off a hayrick yesterday! (51-52)

... from the sort of hucksters Scott had called "phone-lice." (54)

... but Lisey always sensed it as what Scott would have called "a subtext." (54)

It's not a word she wants to hear emerging from her own mouth (it's a Blondie word), but needs must when the devil drives - as Dandy also said ... (56)

Scott almost always rents them a hideout, even if the gig is just what he calls "the old in-out" (56)

What Darla, second-oldest of the Debusher girls, would have called comfort-foot, and what Scott - with great relish - would have called eatin nasty. (62)

What he used to call "foul matter." (75)

What Scott might have called the puffickly huh-yooge ... (78)

This, however ... this bool, to use Scott's word ... (82)

According to Scott, it was the power-lines (what he liked to call "UFO refueling stations") (83)

... what Scott had sometimes been pleased to call - usually in a bad Howard Cosell imitation - "the claret." (87)

Well, turnabout was fair play, so Good Ma had liked to claim, although shite had been their Dad's word, as it had been Dandy Dave who would sometimes tell folks a thing was no good, so I slang it forth. (97)

A project, the Yankee oldtimers like her very own Dad might have said. (97)

Case smucking closed, babyluv, Scott would have said. (98)

It had been what her boyfriend would no doubt call a total smuckup ... (107)

... about her crazy fucked-up family - oh, pardon me, that's crazy smucked-up family, in Scott-talk ... (108)

He would make the scene, as the saying was. (108)

In hopes of getting his end wet. Another one of Scott's catches from the word-pool ... (108)

There was also getting your ashes hauled, dipping your wick, making the beast with two backs, choogling, and the very elegant ripping off a piece. (108)

... she thought of Darla saying, Do what you want, you always do. (108)

He was, in her Dad's words, cruising for a bruising. (109)

... could take her in until the baby was put out for adoption - that was how Jodi said it ... (110)

It's bool, another Scott word ... (114)

All the bad-gunky. Surely another postcard from his childhood. (115)

... three of what her Dad called "the fat fingers" are also cut. (117)

... has been crushed by - what do they call them in Chuckie's Insider? - recovered memories. (121)

.. and the dead mother he supposedly killed because he - how did the hotshot writer put it? - growed too big. (123)

"What's the old saying? 'Call me anything you want, just don't call me late to dinner.'" (126)

... her periods of "passive semi-catatonia," to use the shrink's phrase. (135)

In the Debusher family, where there was a saying for everything, urinating was spending a penny and moving one's bowels was - odd but true - burying a Quaker. (139)

Amanda's eyes continued to star serenely off into the distance. Or into the mystic, if you were a Van Morrison fan. (140)

Fakin like a brakeman, Dandy would have said (141)

It was what Scott called "the fame-card," ... (143)

Or, as Scott himself had once said, by injection. (145)

laying out what he himself would have called "stations of the bool." (148)

(pretty much bowled over, as the saying was) (150-51)

I know what nurses call people like her, they call em gorks ... (153)

"U.S. Gypsum," she said. "only Sparky called it U.S. Gyppum." (155)

He calls it their frontloaded honeymoon. (156)

Except when he was drunk. Then he called them The Four Cleancut Honkies. (160)

... what were called "barncats" in this neck of the woods. (170)

Big diddly, as Cantata had been fond of saying in her teenage yeras. (173)

... she was going to blow her groceries, toss her cookies, throw her heels, donate her lunch. (173)

... she was prepared to leave what Scott might have called "a huh-yoogely provocative message" ... (174)

When you were really angry - when you wanted to tear someone a new asshole, as the saying was ... (174)

... had become what Woodbody described as "sort of buddies." (179)

For the third time that day - third time's the charm, Good Ma would have said, third time pays for all ... (187)

If Dooley "checked by" (Clutterbuck's oddly delicate way of putting it) ... (189)

Perversely he hung on (hung on like a toothache, Dad Debusher would've said) ... (191)

Back to the attic, back to the spare bedroom, back to the cellar. Back to the future, Scott would surely have added ... (194)
That is an incomplete list from the first 200 pages. King's pace with this shit never lets up and this book is 520 pages long.

Life is too short to read bad books.

Next: Blaze (as Richard Bachman).


Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

This was my problem with The Stand. I liked The Stand fine, but he used the phrase "burst into tears" so many times that it became a major distraction for me. I started to note every time it was used. Then I tried to think if ever in my life I saw someone actually "burst into tears" before. No, I hadn't. Cry, sob, weep, get misty-eyed, etc...yes, but actually "burst", never. Yes, this is what a writer's tic will do to someone, turn them into a nut! Now whenever the book The Stand is mentioned, my response is "Oh yeah, the one where everyone burst into tears!" And then I get that look before people step slowly away from me.

allan said...

I never noticed that in The Stand.

I also have a long list of instances where King describes the taste of blood being like copper or tasting like pennies. He was doing that in every book for years and years!