Saturday, September 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Stephen King hits a homerun with Doctor Sleep

The Shining is one of the stories that stick with you – for a really long time.

I’m talking about the book and the movie here – which are two entirely different entities.

Stephen King has famously went on the record saying he hates the movie adaptation of his source novel. I’m going to go on the record and I say I love them both.

King has said he doesn’t find the movie scary. Even today, decades after I first saw it, The Shining is one of the few films that still manages to scare me.

The book is equally terrifying.

Like a lot of King’s work, The Shining leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

That’s why King’s long anticipated follow-up to The ShiningDoctor Sleep – was such a gutsy move by King.

The Shining is one of those (rare) books that has managed to transcend time. If King didn’t deliver a good story with the follow-up, then he risked tarnishing his original work.

Thankfully, for me at least, Doctor Sleep gripped me right from the beginning and it didn’t let go until the final chapter.

Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrance – the son of Jack and Wendy Torrance. As a quick review, Jack Torrance died in the Overlook hotel when the boiler exploded (Doctor Sleep obviously follows the events of the book, rather than the movie).

Doctor Sleep picks up after the events at the Overlook, with a young Danny struggling with his
abilities. Dick Hallorann, the former chef at the Overlook, comes to visit a young Danny to help him keep the creatures he keeps seeing at bay.

The time spent on Danny’s childhood is brief – and yet jarring.

We are then reintroduced to Danny as an adult – but this is not the Danny we expected (or maybe hoped is the better word) to find. His mother Wendy has died. Hallorann has disappeared from his life. Despite the frequent vows that he would not end up like his father, Danny is a falling down drunk.

After hitting rock bottom, Danny – now referred to as Dan – sets up shop in New Hampshire when his long-forgotten invisible friend Tony tells him to. It’s there that Dan not only finds the strength to quit drinking, but the support system to make it stick.

There are three story threads going through Doctor Sleep. The first – and most important – is Dan and the life he has lead.

The second is a young girl named Abra. Abra also has the shining, but she’s even stronger that Dan. While Dan and Abra don’t meet until she’s in middle school – they are both aware of each other thanks to a shared bond with Tony.

The final thread is the big bad of the novel: the True Knot.

I was a little leery of the True Knot people at first, until I realized that they were just Stephen King’s commentary on RV people. The True Knot are immortals (or at least very, very long lived individuals) that live off of the magical steam provided by children with the shining.

All three stories eventually collide – as they must – in a showdown of good vs. evil. Of course, the former denizens of the Overlook – and Danny’s memories of the haunted winter at the inn – figure prominently into the final showdown.

At its heart, Doctor Sleep is a novel about redemption and living up to your potential. While Dan spends a number of years floundering, he manages to find a happy balance in his life – where he uses the shining to help people pass on.

I didn’t particularly find the book scary. To be fair, though, I can’t remember the last King book I did find scary. His later work has been a mixed bag for me. For example, I loved Cell and 10/22/63 – but hated certain entries in the Dark Tower series and his short story compilations. I was also torn on work like Lisey’s Story and Under the Dome.

For me, King’s scariest work came early on with Salem’s Lot, It, The Shining and Pet Sematary. That doesn’t mean that Doctor Sleep isn’t both poignant and gripping.

The magical thing about King is that even when he writes a story that I don’t particularly like, he knows how to spin a good yarn. His prose is always spot on – and he manages to sculpt beautiful characters that stick with you.

After Doctor Sleep, I’m even more attached to Danny Torrance (if that’s possible).

I still love the original source work (and I will always love the movie, even if King doesn’t) but Doctor Sleep gave me a whole new nightmare to think about.

What do you think? Did King deliver with Doctor Sleep?


Blogger Cleo Rogers said...

The richness of the characters was fantastic. I was pulled into this book and got what I want and need from a book, relief from life. Thank you for the break.
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February 17, 2014 at 4:30 AM 

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