Turns out that in his "retirement," Stephen King is more productive than most working stiffs. And the quality of his work isn't nose-diving...

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Turns out that in his “retirement,” Stephen King is more productive than most working stiffs. And the quality of his work isn’t nose-diving, either.

“Lisey’s Story” (Scribner, 513 pp., $28) is King by way of the Lifetime network, a mature love story with a middle-aged heroine and a supernatural — and increasingly disturbing — element. It’s one of the more satisfying tales he’s spun in some time, with the emotional resonance of his landmark novel, “It,” while shorter by half.

Two years after her famous author husband died at a relatively young age, 50-year-old Lisa “Lisey” Landon is finally facing up to the miserable task of going through his stuff. Desk drawers. Boxes. Photos in publications that dismissively refer to her as his “gal pal.” Sifting through it makes for all manner of strolls down memory lane she’d been putting off, both fond and unwelcome.

Lisey’s been fending off bloodsuckers, but not of the species inhabiting “Salem’s Lot.” They’re scholars who want assorted writings or incunabula that the great Scott Landon left behind — Lisey calls these interlopers the “Incunks.” After one university Incunk grows especially impatient, Lisey gets a phone call from a lunatic who guarantees he’ll do some exceedingly ugly things to her — or rather, to parts of her — if she doesn’t hand over the material. On top of all that, she’s got to deal with one of her sisters, who’s having a mental breakdown.

But don’t settle in for a hot cocoa, a bubble bath and a good cry yet. That setup is a maypole around which King dances with more elliptical than usual storytelling that gradually reveals: the details of Scott’s shooting, years earlier, by a nut-case fan who pulled a Mark David Chapman; the nightmarish abuse he endured in childhood; the way he eventually died; and the nature/origin of his astonishing writing gift, which answers the question that annoys so many authors: “Where do you get your ideas?” (Harlan Ellison used to tell people that he had a six-pack of ideas flown in from somewhere every week. Scott Landon gets his from someplace where planes don’t go.)

“Lisey’s Story” takes its sweet time getting going over the first couple hundred pages. And King never lets an implication suffice in place of a shaggy-dog paragraph of detail. But that’s like pointing out the precipitation in Seattle — it’s part of the territory. The book is like a locomotive: starts slow and builds up powerful momentum.

King is especially good at describing the monumental sadness of sifting through the remnants of a dead loved one’s life, and depicting the secret and sometimes even nauseatingly cute code-talk of long relationships. Scott calls Lisey “babyluv,” and SOWISA is their acronym that roughly translates to stepping up to the plate when necessary.

Author appearance


“An Evening with Stephen King,” presented by Seattle Arts & Lectures, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $15-$60 (206-621-2230 or www.lectures.org).

I’ve lost count of how many King stories are about writers, and always wished he’d mix things up more. On the other hand, even though King says that Lisey isn’t his novelist wife, Tabitha (to whom he dedicates the book), her story contains what must be inklings of what King thinks about his life. For instance, there are the rabid fans Scott Landon calls “Deep Space Cowboys” (they’re almost always guys) who want to talk to Scott about the secret messages in his books, or who make long pilgrimages to drop in on him uninvited.

Scott’s fervent Incunks, collectors and academics, Lisey believes, are “ambitious, overeducated goofs who had lost touch with what books and reading were actually about and could be content to go on spinning straw into footnoted fool’s gold for decades on end. But all the real horses were out of the barn. The Scott Landon stuff that had pleased regular readers — people stuck on airplanes between L.A. and Sydney, people stuck in hospital waiting rooms, people idling their way through long, rainy summer vacation days, taking turns between the novel of the week and the jigsaw puzzle out on the sun-porch — all that stuff had been published.”

And since King is single-handedly responsible for bringing horror into mainstream popular literature, there’s some irony that Scott Landon isn’t entirely tickled with what he wrought.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com