SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t yet read this novel, and you don’t want to know how it ends or what “Lisey’s choice” means, then you will want to skip this post.
I’ve been on a Stephen King kick this summer, and after I re-read The Talisman I went on to re-read Lisey’s Story. This book had been on my mind for a while. Maybe it had to do with the character who is dealing with the end of her marriage, due to the death of her husband, and struggling to figure out how to move on to the next part of her life. This was a theme that has similarities to some of the life changes I have faced in the past few years, as well as those of some of my friends. Or, it could have been the magical aspect of being able to remove yourself to another world simply by thinking hard enough about it. An escape into something that is at least different, if not necessarily better or safer. Or, it could have had something to do with the idea of magical objects, like an honorary shovel or an afghan (“african”) that had been lovingly crocheted by a family member. Maybe it was just the memory of Scott’s office, up on the second floor of that old barn, so echoingly empty even as it was full of books and incunabula, and Lisey’s slow response to sorting and catagorizing — to just facing the deciding of what to do with everything that was left after he had gone.
I think maybe it was a little bit of all of these things that drew me back to this book. These were all the things that I remembered about it when I picked it up to read it again. What was interesting, though, were the things that I had forgotten about it. I had almost forgotten that pool in Boo’ya Moon, the pool where everyone goes to heal, but also the pool where story crafters go to fish out their ideas. The images of those people stuck staring at that pool struck me deeply this time, and I could feel their paralysis and unwillingness to move either forward or back. I could feel the danger and how easy it would be to eventually just curl up there on those rocks beside the pool, to pull that thin shroud over yourself, and to stare into that pool until … well, until forever.
I had also forgotten about Scott and Paul, and Paul’s transformation, and the variations of violence that shaped that character long before Lisey ever met him. Madness and abuse run throughout this book, and it’s always by someone who is supposed to love you, either your parent, or sibling, or the biggest fan of your deceased husband’s books. The depth that this strikes internally is actually staggering when you think about it. Have you ever wanted someone you loved to forgive you so badly that you would have cut into yourself, made a blood offering, moved world’s? Once again, King has delved into something that is frightening because even if we haven’t quite been out quite that far, we’ve seen the distant border of that land and it’s something we would rather not think about too carefully. Nothing inspires more pain and madness than love.
So, Lisey’s choice, then, in this book has to do with how she is going to defend herself. Physically she has to defend herself from the King of the Incunks, but she also has to figure out how she is going to defend herself psychologically and emotionally from the memories of a love so strong that it literally moved her to another place. She spends much of the book fighting against those memories, thinking that to remember them will make her crazy like her sister Manda. But, I think that another level of this fight is that recognizing the reality of what was, what really happened, is her first step into moving through it and onward, and moving onward means that it is really and truly over. The King of the Incunks forces her hand only to an extent – she could have killed him and buried him anywhere and no one would have ever been the wiser. Instead, she takes him to Boo’ya Moon, battles with him there, and lets the Long Boy have him. She chooses for him a fate worse than death. She punishes him for more than just physically harming her, or for emotionally scarring her. She punishes him for forcing her to face the end before she was truly ready.
After reading the book this time, I have an even greater respect for it. This time, the images that will stick with me are of Lisey sitting under the Sweetheart Tree and reading Scott’s final manuscript — her story — and finally learning the truth about the man she had loved for so many years. I will remember her finding that hypodermic needle by Paul’s grave, the loss of that bell from the pizza place, and the possible danger of eating fruit after dark. I will remember her rattling around in that house all alone and thinking about The Last Picture Show and Old Hank. Lisey alone. But most of all, I will remember her audaciousness, her decision to deal out to the King of the Incunks something far beyond what he thought she was capable of. Part of the real horror of this book, I think, is being so firmly in agreement with Lisey’s choice.