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King twists a love story into horror

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Horror master Stephen King proves in Lisey's Story that he can deftly write in the language of love.

Lisey's Story, on sale today, is unlike any novel King has written. Its tone and style feel highly personal. You sense that King really, really loves this book.

Lisey Landon is the widow of celebrated author Scott Landon, who died two years before. You can't help but think that King's own brush with death seven years ago informs this story. He was struck by a minivan while walking along a road in Maine.

King writes in the afterword that Tabitha, his wife of 35 years, is not Lisey, but did he try to imagine what life could be like for the lonely widow of an incredibly popular novelist?

Page after page, Lisey remembers her life with Scott and pivotal events, including the time he was shot by a nut case in Nashville and the night he asked Lisey to marry him. King writes that the grieving widow "missed him so fiercely she felt empty, not a woman at all anymore but just a dead tree filled with cold November blow."

But this is a Stephen King novel, and eventually something weird is going to happen. When it does, you'll feel like you've been whacked on the head by a shovel. The analogy will make sense once you've read the book.

Scott had an extraordinary childhood. There are heartbreaking scenes of abuse, and as the story gathers speed, we, like Lisey, are horrified by the story of Scott and his brother Paul. King goes to new lengths in creating Scott's back story. Some may find it too tough to take. Hard-core King fans may dread every word, but they'll also be dying to find out what happens next.

Lisey also has a problem -- her very own personal nut case, Zack McCool, who enters her home and tortures her with a handy kitchen utensil. You would think she'd let the cops take care of this guy, but Lisey has special plans for her walking nightmare. Her conviction that Scott is guiding her and the thin line between our world and another drive the story.

The other world -- Boo'ya Moon -- is as much a frightening a place as it is a safe harbor. As in most King novels, there's no explanation for why things are the way they are and why weird things happen. People moving between different worlds? That's just the way it is.

Despite the classic King elements -- the blood, the evil and some absolutely gruesome killings -- Lisey's Story also is a story of devoted, unquestioning and unquenchable love.

It's a portrait of a long-term marriage, its quirky intimacies and how those left behind struggle with death.

Forty books later, King can still scare the bejesus out of us. He also can tell an epic love story as beautiful as his monsters are hideous.

Lisey's Story

By Stephen King

Scribner, 513 pp., $28

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© Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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