By Dean M Drinkel
First published: October 24th 2006 (excerpts from the novel published in “McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber Of Astonishing Stories” –2004)
Awards: (Excerpt “Lisey and The Madman”) Nominated for a Bram Stoker Award – 2004; Nominated for World Fantasy Award - 2007
“Love...no such thing. Whatever it is that binds families and married couples together, that's not love. That's stupidity or selfishness or fear. Love doesn't exist. Self interest exists, attachment based on personal gain exists, complacency exists. But not love. Love has to be reinvented, that’s certain.”
– Arthur Rimbaud
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.”
– William Burroughs
“One can be absolutely truthful and sincere even though admittedly the most outrageous liar. Fiction and invention are of the very fabric of life.”
– Henry Miller
“I don’t like King’s books or horror in general!”
– Customer Review, Amazon
Hang on, take a step back...you what?
Yep, it’s true. That last quote was actually taken from a review of one of Stephen King’s novels.
Several expletives skip around my head when I see something like this – why read a Stephen King book in the first place if you don’t like Stephen King and you don’t like horror? And why even bother to leave a review of it...the mind boggles.
Okay, I need a drink (let me crack open a bottle of the red wine I’ve been keeping for a special occasion such as this) and when I’m finished, I promised myself a cigar – I’ll be back in a second.
It’s strange as I type the final draft of this piece...my grandfather just died. He wasn’t that far from a hundred.
Imagine the things that you might have seen during that time. Imagine the things you might have done.
But then imagine the things you could have seen, the things you could have done.
Pause for a second.
A hundred doesn’t seem an awfully long time now does it?
Life is just too f@@king short.
Back in the Fall of 2014, I was travelling down to Monte Carlo via a night or two in Paris, then a short stop off in Cannes before arriving in Monaco itself – the purpose of which was that I was nominated for a Screenplay Award at the Monaco International Film Festival.
I don’t particularly like flying nowadays so I’d caught the overnight coach out of London to Paris then when I went South, I hit the train.
As there were a few hours to kill, and there’s only so much drinking one can do (yeah, right haven’t you seen us at Fantasycon or a BFS Open Night?!) at the Gare du Nord, I popped into the tabac, picked up a copy of Rolling Stone – primarily for the U2 article but when I flicked through the pages I saw that there was a short interview with Stephen King (just one of several co-incidences that was soon to happen upon me).
Around the same time (I haven’t checked exactly when but for the sake of this piece, just go with me will you Gentle Reader?) I was working with Mark West on a horror anthology project of mine and he mentioned his “King For The Year” series.
Now, whilst I haven’t always been a massive Stephen King fan, I of course admire a great story teller, and as Mark has helped me out many a time in the past, it was time for me to return to the favour (do you know something else and this is weird – the first time I actually met Mark was in a lift in Brighton at Fantasycon and the first time I met Stephen King’s son Joe Hill was in a lift at Fantasycon in Nottingham...goosebumps time!).
Anyway, coming to the project perhaps later than most, I asked Mark what was available (after he’d explained the premise of what he was trying to do) and he said: “How about Lisey’s Story?”
“Great,” I replied. Never having read the book. But always a trooper, I shrugged and got on with it.
Of course I didn’t, I spent months on Facebook looking at LOLCats or some dress which is white and gold (not blue, black or whatever the hell you think it is).
As the deadline loomed closer and closer and I realised I actually had to pull my finger out, I thought back to that train ride...
....so there I was, on the train leaving Cannes (one of my favourite towns – next time you’re down there, check out Couby’s restaurant...the food is great and it’s got a neat little bar / club upstairs with live music most nights...you might even see one of my books on the shelf behind where the band plays!), heading along the French Riviera, heading to Monaco for the Festival press conference when I scanned through the Stephen King article when I came across this:
Rolling Stone Interviewer: If you had to pick your best book, what would it be?
Stephen King: Lisey’s Story. That felt like an important book to me because it was about marriage and I’d never written about that. I wanted to talk about two things. One is the secret world that people build inside a marriage and the other was that even in that intimate world, there’s still things that we don’t know about each other.
Another co-incidence! Bizarre (in my opinion anyway) that Lisey’s Story was his favourite book and now here I was about to write a piece about that very book.
Anyway, back to LOLCats...
Co-incidence number three (is it? I’m losing count): after winning the Screenplay Award (awesome – three times in a row!), I came back to England and spent some time with my Mater over the Christmas period.
Growing up, Mater’s favourite author was Stephen King – whenever a new novel was released we’d buy it for her birthday, Christmas or whatever...now, without dwelling upon it too much, my parents were involved in a very horrific car accident – my Mother recovered and whilst my Father did initially, it is safe to say that it contributed to his early death only a couple of years later – anyway, during that time my Mother decided to have a clear out and felt that as she had read all the books on the shelf then it was time to pass them onto someone else to enjoy – she took them to the local charity shop.
So Christmas 2014 and I’m talking about my creative plans for 2015, one of which was this piece and Mater asked me which book I was writing about. I told her, she said “wait there”, then rushed upstairs only to return a few moments later holding a book in her hand.
“I don’t know why, but for some reason I kept this one,” she whispered.
It was Lisey’s Story.
As I said, Mother was the Stephen King nut in our house. Dad was a big reader (prior to their accident anyway) and loved Westerns, Crimes, Thrillers...he wasn’t so big on horror (though I remember on holiday in Rhodes once he picked up my Peter James "Possession" – he liked that – and Clive Barker’s "The Great And Secret Show" – he had no idea what was going on and actually questioned my sanity) and left my mother to King and me to Barker (anyone who knows me knows what a massive influence Clive has been – it was an honour to direct one of his plays and I’m also able to call several of the Cenobites my dearest friends. It’s also very heart warming when I am compared to Clive too. "Hellraiser" is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen and I hope someday to work in that universe).
Several times I did try to get into King and there were a few novels which I really dug like "IT", "The Dark Half", "The Stand" and "The Dead Zone" but I found a lot of his work too ‘folksy’ (I don’t mean that as a disparaging remark before you, Gentle Reader, throw your proverbial toys out of the pram and in my direction - that wine has gone to my head and I’m feeling a little fragile).
I didn’t care much for his characterization; I also felt that – and not necessarily his fault – that these weren’t horror books. With Barker I knew what I was going to get, particularly in those early impressionable days (as an aside I can’t wait to get my hands on his "Scarlet Gospels" when it’s out in May – hopefully I’ll be able to pick up a copy whilst in France – one of my treasured possessions is the French paperback version of "The Hellbound Heart").
When she handed me Lisey’s Story and I read those opening words, I did so with some trepidation...
“To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all but invisible, and no one knew better than Lisey Landon.”
...but the trepidation was soon replaced by intrigue. I was genuinely interested in what I was reading, particularly the ‘story within a story’ premise.
I was hooked.
Hang on a second, music has stopped, I need to change the CD…what shall I put on?
Ah yes, that will do.
The Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County.
John Mellencamp and…Stephen King….another bleedin’ co-incidence…
Gentle Reader, I suppose one purpose of these series of articles is tell you something about the plot of the books that we’re writing about (well, I hope that’s the purpose otherwise I’m in a whole heap of trouble).
So what exactly is Lisey’s ‘story’?
Nora Roberts nails the crux of the tale when she reviewed it as such (and probably a lot better than I could condense the plot – God knows what the word count is supposed to be on these things):
“..a love story, heart wrenching, passionate, terrifying and tender…a twenty-five year marriage…a widow’s journey through grief and discovery…a journey that risks both her life and her sanity…”
That actually sounds like a real cool read doesn’t it? So thanks Nora for being as eloquent as you are because I couldn’t have put it any better.
Right from the get-go I wondered who this Lisey was and how come she was a widow…well, for starters, her husband was a very successful novelist called Scott Landon and as we discover very quickly in the novel (actually, the second line) he was a winner of both the Pulitzer and National Book Award – so he was quite a big deal.
It’s a couple of years since her husband died, Lisey is cleaning out the house, particularly the area where he wrote and as she does that she starts to remember things from their past which she had tried to keep hidden. She then gets attacked by her husband’s ‘Number One Fan’ who is trying to get his dirty mitts on all Scott Landon’s unpublished works.
But as well as all that it seemed Scott had a ‘special gift’ which enabled him to transport to a happy place he called Boo’ya Moon.
AND…Scott’s brother was murdered by their father who was then killed by Scott to save him from his own insanity.
I’ll let Nora finish off for us:
“…Lisey will face Scott’s demons as well as her own, travelling into the past and into Boo’ya Moon, the seductive and terrifying world he’d shown her. There lives the power to heal, and the power to destroy…”
I’m really getting into this.
Lisey’s Story is a very clever book, able to both consciously / sub-consciously reference other King novels such as "Misery" and "The Shining" as two obvious examples – with some references to "Needful Things" and "From A Buick 8". It is a story about love, marriage and the memories we make / have of those who are dear to us.
Quite a lot going on in those five hundred and twenty-eight pages wouldn’t you agree?
It was obvious to many a reviewer when the book was first released how important it was to King.
Writing in the Guardian, Toby Litt liked it a great deal and said it was definitely one of King’s best but took particular offense to King’s constant use of the word ‘smucking’ which he highlights is a word that the Landons substitute when they want to say ‘fucking’ (my apologies Gentle Reader). He uses this ‘smucking’ as an example of the “interior language of a marriage” and suggests that Scott and Lisey’s marriage was a marriage based around language…
Hang on a second. I need my notepad. This is getting complicated and a little bit intellectual isn’t it? I mean, language?
Language can’t be the foundation for marriage can it?
Well, I’ve heard worse I guess…and sometimes when I watch shows like Jeremy Kyle (for inspiration obviously) I really do fear for the human race…I really do.
Anyway, my eyes have just dropped to the biography of Toby Litt. It says his (at that time) latest novel is "Ghost Story". I remember reading Peter Straub’s "Ghost Story", I wonder if Litt’s is any good…let’s take a look shall we at what the Amazon description is like:
“When Agatha and Paddy decide to leave London and buy a house on the coast, they are full of hope for themselves and their growing family - baby Max and a new child on the way. Three months later, when the builders move out and they move in, things look very different. A personal tragedy threatens to destroy all they have carefully built up and only a small miracle, it seems, will save them. . . Ghost Story is a book both haunted and haunting, which asks how we can ever mourn something that hasn't lived. Emotionally resonant, beautifully crafted and ultimately redemptive, it will take you to the heart of suffering and desire.”
That doesn’t sound half bad actually…perhaps nothing special but then again maybe that’s doing Litt some disservice as it is very hard to nail the crux of the story in only a few sentences.
What about the reviews?
“The title suggests something spooky or chilling. It’s not.”
“This book is a disappointment.”
Ah, right, I’ll stick with the Straub version then.
But this has now got me thinking.
As I type this, I’m just going to check what they’ve written about Lisey’s Story on Amazon. Apparently there are 677 customer reviews. I’ve just scanned through them and there are precisely:
254 5 star reviews
101 4 star reviews
100 3 star reviews
85 2 star reviews
147 1 star reviews
Which isn’t bad at all considering my own (brilliant!) horror anthology released in October 2014 by Western Legends Press entitled "Phobophobias" has so far garnered:
One fucking 2 star review!!! Of which it was written:
“A good idea but not very well executed”
Jesus, don’t readers appreciate the hard work it takes to put these bloody things together…oh hang on what’s this on the American site:
“Good stories…I enjoyed the different stories and will be buying some of the different authors books.”
(Just a digression, Chris Hall of DLS Reviews did a blinding review of my anthology and actually took time to write about each story…if you get five minutes you should check it out at www.dlsreviews.com/phobophobias.php for some reason it was too ‘raunchy’ to be put on Amazon. Yeah, go figure.)
For Lisey’s Story there were some great comments made and it really seemed to resonate with the readers:
“…this is one of my favourites…”
“…one of King’s finest…”
“…the essence of marriage…”
Yeah yeah, of course there are some negative reviews of the book (particularly about the editing and ‘mistakes’ contained throughout) just as there are positive comments about Litt’s "Ghost Story" but do reviews really matter? Isn’t it the sales that are the important thing and if the story resonates with you personally, do you really need someone else telling you what you should or shouldn’t like?
This is a real succinct take on the book as well (also from Amazon):
"Every marriage has two hearts, one light and one dark. Lisey knew it when she first fell for Scott. And now he's dead, she knows it for sure. Lisey was the light to Scott Landon's dark for twenty-five years. As his wife, only she saw the truth behind the public face of the famous author - that he was a haunted man whose bestselling novels were based on a terrifying reality. Now Scott has gone, Lisey wants to lock herself away with her memories. But the fans have other ideas. And when the sinister threats begin, Lisey realises that, just as Scott depended on her strength - her light - to live, so she will have to draw on his darkness to survive.”
You know what, why don’t you buy the book yourself, read and digest, and if you really feel like it, let us know your opinion…me?
Yeah, I liked it. A great deal.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to visit http://stephenking.com/dollarbabies.php as I’ve got an idea for a short film based on one of his stories…just one more sip of this wine and time to light that cigar.
Catch you at the bar!
Dean M. Drinkel is an Author, Editor, Poet, Award Winning Script-Writer, Theatre & Film Director. More about Dean can be found at: http://deanmdrinkelauthor.blogspot.co.uk/, www.ellupofilms.com and Issue 331 of Fangoria.