When I’m curled up in bed with the latest book by a well-regarded author I want to lose myself in the story, and not have to wonder what possessed them to snipe at another of my favorite authors. Well, no such luck with Stephen King’s “Lisey’s Story”. I’ve always thought that King has the greatest ear for language in America today (better than Tom Wolfe’s, for example): and in this book he dives into the pool of language to retrieve some words (“bool”: pity on the man’s translators) that stick in your memory long after you’ve finished the book. Yet, he snipes. In setting out his characters’ intellectual history (chapter 2.8) he spells out where they stand in 1988: “Scott reads people like Borges, Pynchon, Tyler, and Atwood; Lisey reads Maeve Binchy, Colleen McCullough, Jean Auel (although she is growing a bit impatient with Auel’s randy cave people), Joyce Carol Oates, and, just lately, Shirley Conran.”
If that isn’t meant to ruffle some feathers at Princeton, I don’t know what it is. Professor Oates – not a woman to be provoked lightly – is not above sniping back. In her “Missing Mom”, she takes King’s wife’s name, Tabitha (the real-life Lisey to Scott’s real-life King), and gives it to elderly Aunt Tabitha, the most oppressive character in the book. Or maybe the provocation worked the other way round – in that case, I’ll be watching out for her next novel. Hell, I’ll be watching out anyway.
On a different note: Tabitha King is, if I’m not mistaken, one of four sisters. So is Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster’s wife. Why do these guys marry women with lots of sisters?