Stephen King says he rarely plots his stories in advance; he just picks up the thread of an idea and follows it wherever it goes. And sometimes, the seams show. King is notorious for repeating himself and disappearing into self-consuming mythologies, and even his fans have learned to brace themselves when they get to the last hundred pages or so of his novels, waiting for the inevitable hacked-out, blood-soaked letdown. But while there's madness to King's method, his grip-it-and-rip-it approach also means that when he's on a tear—and he frequently is, even 40 years into a ridiculously prolific career—the words are as fresh and unstudied as the moment they popped out of his head.
King's latest novel, Lisey's Story, explores his process a little. It's yet another King book about a troubled writer—Scott Landon, who dies two years before the book begins, leaving his wife Lisey in charge of his unpublished manuscripts and his family secrets. Landon comes from a long line of lunatics both catatonic and homicidal, and his own particular madness stems from his ability to disappear into a lush shadow realm. In this place, dubbed "Boo'ya Moon," Landon once found inspiration for his stories, whenever he wasn't running from literal demons. Scott took Lisey to Boo'ya Moon before they were married, but she's avoided thinking about it since, except for the times when her husband was in deep trouble, and except for now, when a maniacal Landon fan is threatening her life.
Unlike a lot of recent King novels, Lisey's Story is rooted in character more than premise, and it's more personal, too—not just because it's about writing, but because it's about marriage. King employs a deceptively effortless nesting flashback structure, gradually strengthening readers' grasp of Scott and Lisey's relationship by explaining their in-jokes. The book's sense of intimacy forgives a lot of King's reliance on made-up words like "blood-bool," "smucking," and "bad-gunky," and though Lisey's Story rolls on toward King's usual mix of barely plausible fantasy and prosaic explanation, the leads' deep loneliness—Scott's due to his childhood, and Lisey's due to the loss of Scott—anchors the book and gives it reason to be. This is a page-turner with a purpose, demonstrating through King's pure storytelling skill how a fictional world can draw people in because they need it to.