On Sunday I finished Lisey’s Story.
I keep wanting to call it "Stephen King’s Eyes Wide Shut."
Let me explain.
I did a short review of Eyes Wide Shut back in 1999, for the Hermiston Herald, and even being short, it was hard to write; I couldn’t wrap my mind around Stanley Kubrick’s odd, dense, somewhat off-putting film on one viewing. (I wasn’t alone; I remember a Tri-Cities TV reporter of my acquaintance ranting on-air that the movie was "awful.") But I began with this line: "This is the strangest ode to marriage I’ve ever seen."
With all the bizarrities and simulated sex and off-putting music and confining look and design of Eyes Wide Shut, you could boil the film’s story down to "A marriage, tested – that survives." And amidst all the coverage of the movie – Kubrick’s last film! Eighteen months to shoot! Troubles with the ratings board! The computer-generated sex-act obscuring! – none of it seemed to reflect on how this filmmaker, who’d had a long, successful marriage to artist Christiane Kubrick, had declared as his favorite film (if I remember correctly) this story about…marriage. But I had a feeling (perhaps misguided; robyn_ma would know whether or not I’m talking out my ass on this) that it was key. "This film," I wrote, "could only have been made by someone who’d been married a long time." The Kubrick marriage was, by all accounts I’ve heard, a close, deeply private pairing, for a long time. ’Til death did them part.
Stephen King is part of a unique, long-lived married pair as well. He met writer Tabitha Spruce in 1969, and as he wrote in On Writing, "It’s worked. Our marriage has outlasted all of the world’s leaders except for Castro, and if we keep talking, arguing, making love, and dancing to the Ramones – gabba-gabba-hey – it’ll probably keep working." And as their marriage continued over the years, King seems to have written more and more of marriage. First more dysfunctional – The Shining, where the husband goes nuts; ’Salem’s Lot, with the affair; the Bachman book Roadwork, where a marriage disintegrates – then, more often, more functional (excepting the separated couple in Cell, his other 2006 novel). Bag of Bones, perhaps my favorite stand-alone book King’s written in the last 10 years, is about a good marriage that continues to have an impact on the world after Johanna Noonan, author Mike Noonan’s wife, dies suddenly. (I’m stepping very lightly to avoid spoilers on that one.) Bag of Bones looked at a long marriage from the point of view of the widower; Lisey’s Story uses the POV of the widow: Lisey Landon, née Lisey Debusher. And over 500-plus pages, we see how well she understood husband Scott Landon, how well he understood her, how well-matched they were, and how her brand of crazy and his brand of crazy got them through some tough, scary times…including after Scott’s death. (Again, stepping lightly, as it’s a brand-new book.)
Stephen King has his own very distinct storytelling stamps – he’s a messier artist than the meticulous Stanley Kubrick was, he’s more likely to mention the bodily functions of his characters (in Dreamcatcher, the farts are a plot point!), he can be silly and juvenile, he’s both profane and country-colorful in his characters’ sayings, and he uses "pretty much" way too much for my tastes – but both Lisey’s Story and Eyes Wide Shut take something as solid as a strong marriage and show it through a dream-like prism. This is done with a horror-fantasy construct in Lisey’s Story, a parallel world called Boo’Ya Moon, while Eyes Wide Shut sends Tom Cruise down a similar rabbit-hole into a world several degrees off the world with which he’s familiar, where naked women wear elaborate masks for bizarre rituals and some of the soundtrack music plays backwards. And while Lisey’s Story is much funnier – there’s little room for laughs in Eyes Wide Shut – every now and then King will start talking seriously about the incidents and accidents that lead people to meet, to fall for each other, to marry…and how wonderful it is when that happens and when that works.
Stephen King knows it’s wonderful. So did Stanley Kubrick.