Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lisey's Story

I'm listening to Lisey's Story (read by the incomparable Mare Winningham) by Stephen King. As writers we hold the mirror up to nature as Aristotle's famous trope says. That means we are not strictly natural, we are mirroring the natural. The little bits of day-to-day minutae that comprise life are redacted in favor of those elements which support the story, and its artful rhythms.

While Lisey's Story has some heart-wrenchingly beautiful poetic prose (SK's description of John Lennon comes immediately to mind), the way Lisey thinks is simply not natural. She imagines all the little bits leading up to the big event (which I haven't got to yet). But that's not how real people think, I believe. That's how authors think who are plotting a mystery; or like a historian giving us the step-by-step reasons leading up to disasters like the Hindenberg's or the Titanic's. Because this thought process (not the words themselves, but the substance, the rhythm and the meaning) seems stilted, the book keeps me at arm's length, gnashing my teeth and muttering, "get to the point already!"

Real people remember the big events first. Then we fill in the gaps. We also have fantasies about what we could have done differently if only we could turn back time and have a do-over. Lisey experiences none of this (or very little--since I'm listening I may not have the same focus as reading on the page). Reactions make the story. Big events--then reactions--make the story. In all of her musings I often lose where she is in the moment--what's she's doing in real time. If she were writing the story--i.e., if it were in first person--then all of this would be moot because she would be de facto unreliable. Then we would have to piece together the clues ourselves because she's focused on other things and the author, like her subconscious, is dropping little hints along the way.

As it is, Lisey's Story is rather like a murder mystery in which you've been in the point of view of a character the whole time, and only on the last page do you discover this character is the killer. Fraud! Cheat! Compare this with Hearts in Atlantis, and I think you'll agree. When you're writing psychological horror--you have to get the psychology right.

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