02 October 2013

Books: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (2013)

As Stephen King has noted since he began the task of writing a sequel to The Shining, he never felt the need to write continuations to his any of his tomes (outside the Dark Tower series, and though him and Peter Straub wrote a sequel to The Talisman, it is a more stand-alone and probably more of a Dark Tower novel than a true sequel); he had said what he wanted to say and moved on. But, as he mentions in his afterword of Doctor Sleep, some fans had asked him whatever happen to Danny Torrance, the little boy who spent a horrifying season in the Overlook Hotel at the hands of his alcoholic father and the “ghosties” that inhabited the haunted building. 

According to King, even he wondered the same. He has said that every once in while he would wonder, as the decades passed, what age Danny would be, what he might be doing. Then back in 2009, King asked his fans, via his web site, what they wanted most, another Dark Tower story or a sequel to 1977’s The Shining. Not surprising, the fans wanted both. In March of 2012 he released The Wind Through the Keyhole, what he called 4.5 of his Dark Tower series, and a year and half later, he finally gave us Doctor Sleep

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes Doctor Sleep. But during his time there, he comes in contact with Abra Stone, first as a baby, then as young girl (and Abra is so much a variation on Carrie, I would not have been surprised if they were related) who possess the same abilities as Dan –except hers is stronger. 

But because she is stronger, and because she sensed the murder of an 11 year-old boy in Iowa, this draws the attention of The True Knot, a tribe of nomadic people –who like a bunch of retired folks traveling the nation in their huge RV’s- that are some sort of quasi-immortal creatures, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. But the Knot is not quite what they used to be, and their stored thermos bottles of “steam” is running out and their leader, Rose the Hat, decides that Abra –and her powerful shining- will solve all their problems. 

Now Dan Torrance must confront his own personal demons and help Abra put an end to The True Knots wandering days, a battle that will end where it all began. 

I have noticed over the years that King –as he’s grown older and become a better writer- his ability to scare the willies out of you has been tempered by his apparent desire to understand the human condition more. His characters have become more complex and they have more human problems –more dark human problems, of course, but problems set in the real world. Which is perhaps, for me who’s been a Constant Reader since 1980, actually likes his later works more. Yes, I still think ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, It and The Dead Zone are some best works from the 1970’s to the mid-80s, but his characters have become more real. More human. Thus, more interesting. In the end, character driven stories are always more satisfying than the plot driven ones. 

Yes, Doctor Sleep won’t scare you in the same way King did in The Shining, but this book is tremendously entertaining, fast paced and wonderfully multifaceted.

1 comment:

SEAN (The Jeep Guy) said...

I just finished this and thought it was amazing...but he had my hairs stinging from the beginning. I think you can look at King in thirds - the 1st was scary and about fighting evil (things) the middle third was kinda muddled and the last third has be about how humans are the ultimate evil - even when they're the good guys.

Dr. was a really good blend of the 1st and 3rd thirds. I was glad I reread The Shining first but Dr could almost be read as a stand alone.

I though the ending was especially satisfying. In many of his books he spends 80-90% building up to an overly quick ending - not here.