One-Minute Book Reviews

November 6, 2006

Books I Didn’t Finish #1: Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Filed under: Books I Didn't Finish,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:32 pm

First in an occasional series that explains why I didn’t finish certain books

Title: Lisey’s Story: A Novel. By Stephen King. Scribner, 512 pp., $28.

What It Is: Stephen King’s latest horror novel.

Where I Stopped Reading: Page 45 (middle of second chapter).

Why I Stopped: Stephen King is a far better writer than many other owners of time shares on the bestseller lists, including Danielle Steel and John Grisham. He cares about writing, he knows what makes it good, and he won’t give you sentences like one I found in Steel’s Toxic Bachelors: “‘Yes,’ he said succinctly.” And his On Writing (Pocket Books, 2002) is one of the better books about writing by an author who knows how to reach a mass market.

But reading is like dating: It requires – literally or figuratively – sexual attraction, and I’ve never warmed to his brand of horror. At times it’s seemed to me that you need to be a 13-year-old male and the owner of a skateboard helmet to appreciate King’s novels fully. And yet, a lot of women love them. So I decided to try King again after I read that his new novel has a female protagonist, the widow of “America’s most famous novelist.” The dust jacket says that it’s a book about a woman who learns that her late husband went to “a place that both terrified and healed him, that could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed to live.”

Lisey’s Story begins with a line that, for King, is atypically stilted: “To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all but invisible …” Why not just “to the public”? Or “in the public eye”? Who says “to the public eye”? It’s also odd that King repeats “well-known” in his third sentence. (He mentions a “well-known women’s magazine” that interviewed Lisey for its column, “Yes, I’m Married to Him!” — nice touch of humor.) I’m no fan of elegant variation, the literary term for a strained effort to avoid repetition; it’s pointless to subtitute abbatoir for “slaughterhouse.” But wouldn’t it have made sense for King to replace his second “well-known” with, say, “popular” or “mass-market”? Otherwise the first paragraph works well, and the first 45 pages of Lisey’s Story set up a strong and menacing conflict between Lisey and whoever was responsible for the shooting of her husband at a Tennessee university in 1988.

So why didn’t I keep reading?

King was again the good-on-paper date who didn’t make the sparks fly. Before starting Lisey’s Story, I had dipped into Alex Kuczynski’s Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery (Doubleday, 2006), which I’ll be reviewing on this blog later in the week. Kuczynski reports that after a dermatologist injected her upper lip with the filler Restylane, she found that her lip “had swollen to the size of a large yam.” That’s my definition of a horror story.

Posted by Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved


  1. I love this category, Books I Didn’t Finish. I was drawn to read the King review because I’m one of the women that used to love him. It was quite a while ago, maybe 10 years, and I don’t think he’s written another book that has drawn me in for quite a while.

    I agree with you, his “On Writing” book is one of the best for mass market on writing. King does care about writing!

    Your last few lines of this review made me laugh out loud. I have to admit, I’m not all that fond of yams!


    Comment by quoinmonkey — April 21, 2007 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  2. So glad you like this category. I realized when I was the book editor of The Plain Dealer that my colleagues and I were always making decisions about which books we would or wouldn’t review that we couldn’t explain to readers because we didn’t have space. So this category is, in part, my way trying to make up for it. Thanks for the support!

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 21, 2007 @ 9:50 am | Reply

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