With “Lisey’s Story,” he added, “I’m not saying that it’s deathless prose, or it’s a classic, but I’m saying that I’m surprised I had this book in me. It’s a lucky book.”Interesting how he phrases that, but I'll get to that in a minute. His publisher, Scribner, is sending out reader's copies of the book to critics and independent booksellers. They're pushing to get "Lisey's Story" into independent bookstores where King's books are usually verboten. They obviously think if any King book is going to increase his audience from just his diehard fans (which are legion) and folks who want something that goes fast for a long plane ride, this is the one. And then there's this quote from King, which I think reveals much about hus current literary ambitions:
This is what I think is going on. King wants a National Book Award or a Pulitzer. He got an O. Henry Award for a short story he wrote back in the nineties, he got some respectful reviews for his first "literary" horror novel, "Bag of Bones", and most importantly he got that Distinguihsed Contribution to Arts and Letters from the National Book Association, the same crew that hands out National Book Awards, and he believes he has that or a Pulitzer-worthy book in him. Maybe" Lisey's Story" is it. He can't come right out and say that in an interview, ""Lisey's" good enough to win a major literary award," because of course he wouldn't even get shortlisted, but he can call it a "lucky book", say that he's "surprised [he] had it in [him]", and talk about his newfound appreciation for "the word", and get the book the attention it needs to be considered.
The intense focus on language in “Lisey” comes as something of a shift for him. In his early days Mr. King confessed that a story’s concept superseded the language. In an interview in The New York Times Magazine, Mr. King once said: “Love of the word wasn’t first. It was second.” Now, he said, language is “more important than it used to be.”
Part of that change, he said, was that he was reading more poetry. Among his favorites are D. H. Lawrence, Richard Wilbur and James Dickey.
“You get older, you find out time is shorter, and you read stuff that you’ve missed before,” he said. “You say, ‘I can’t wait forever anymore to read Eudora Welty.’ I finally got to Eudora Welty, so maybe I’m just meeting a better class of literary person.”
Is "Lisey's Story" as good as King thinks it is? Michael Chabon thinks so: according to reports the book's going to have a big warm Chabon blurb on it to assure hesitant, first-time King buyers that this one's different from all those other horror books. I've read an excerpt of the book and I liked it, though I also realize an excerpt isn't a novel. Believe me, I'm hoping for the best.
I think King will write "literary" books that may well be read 50 years after he's shuffled off the mortal coil. (I know he's written a few horror books that will be read for a century if not longer -- "Shining", "Misery", "Different Seasons", the first four books of "The Dark Tower" series, etc.). But if you look at the books that have won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award since they started handing the things out, King doesn't fit into that group of authors (even a reformed King), and a King novel doesn't fit into a list of the winning books. At least of this writing, the folks who decide these things are going to want more of a committment to "literary writing", before they stick their necks out for the derision they'll no doubt face from boobs like Howard Bloom and the other book snobs who laid into the National Book Awards for giving King his Distinguished Arts and Letters medal.
So even if "Lisey'"s doesn't pan out for him in the awards department this time around, at a production rate of a book a year he's got a lot more chances. He's not even 60 yet. And as I said in a previous post, the quality of "Cell" indicates he's about called it quits with horror altogether. (My new theory is that he got the idea for "Lisey's Story" in his head in the middle of writing "Cell", and then hurried to get "Cell" finished so he could write "Lisey's Story", which would explain why "Cell" completely falls apart in the second half. End of theory.) Anyway, when it comes out, I'll read it and let you know how it is.