Book: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King
Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2013
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.
On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky 12-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.
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.”
Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.
Review: Around the time the trailer for Mike Flanagan’s film “Doctor Sleep” dropped, I was texting back and forth with the aforementioned Blake. He told me that he had never actually picked up “Doctor Sleep”, as he’d heard it was middling at best, but wanted to know what I thought. I told him how much I loved it, but admitted that I hadn’t read it for a long time. So when he later told me that he’d picked it up and was, so far, really liking it, I decided that I needed to go back and re-read it. One, so he and I could potentially have a mini-book club over the sequel to the book that started our friendship, and two because the movie was coming out and I wanted to have the novel fresh in my memory. So I picked up “Doctor Sleep”, figuring I’d meander through it at a lazy pace… But then I ended up binging the entire thing in a couple of days. The continuing story of Danny Torrance post-Overlook once again sucked me in.
What you need to know about “Doctor Sleep” is that while it’s a sequel to “The Shining”, the tone, feel, and approach are very different. While they both take a look at addiction (though in different ways, as King was in the middle of his during “The Shining” and in recovery during “Doctor Sleep”), “The Shining” is about ghosts, an evil place, and the slow violent spiral of a husband and father because of the influence of the two. “Doctor Sleep”, however, goes in a different direction. Instead of relying mostly on the ghosts and ghouls, at its heart is a story about trauma and coming to terms with your past while finding a hopeful future. And, of course, still dealing with supernatural themes like psychic abilities and monsters. Dan Torrance is now an adult, who has tried to escape his memories of The Overlook and his abilities by falling into a bottle. Seeing Danny all grown up is a very bleak, but realistic, look at what trauma can do to a person, and how sometimes people cope in ways that are incredibly destructive to others and to themselves. You are already invested in Dan because you know he was that little boy at the Overlook, and some of the best moments of dread in this book have less to do with the visions he still has, and more to do with whether or not he is going to fall off the wagon. It just so happens that around the time he decides to fully commit to recovery, he makes a psychic connection with a newborn girl named Abra, whose Shining abilities are above and beyond his own. Abra is a fantastic new character to bring into the story, as her childhood is a reversed mirror image of what Danny went through as a child. She comes from a loving family, she easily makes friends, and her powers are accepted (albeit hush hush and not totally understood) by her parents, while Danny’s powers were cultivated and nurtured in a dark, abusive setting and a lonely childhood. You definitely get the sense that their connection isn’t pure happenstance, but that doesn’t really matter; what matters is that they are both vital to each other’s survival. Abra needs someone who understands her and understands the dangers of her powers, and Dan needs a reason to keep going and to keep his addictions at bay. King captures an authentic and very likable, yet complex, voice in Abra, and her kindness and joy radiates off of the page, just as her own inner darkness rears in relatable and believable ways. Her friendship with Dan brings out the best in both of them, and as they learn from each other and protect each other from impending dangers, you get super invested in their connection, even if you aren’t completely sure as to why it’s happening.
And let’s talk about those dangers, too. King creates a malevolent and wholly original villain group as only he can with the True Knot, a nomadic group of vampirelike beings that feed on psychic energy. They target children with The Shining, as the True Knot can achieve eternal life by extracting their abilities in ‘steam’ form. The leader of the group is Rose the Hat, a charismatic and vicious woman who kills without remorse for the good of her group. Rose the Hat is a top three King villain for me, as she is intimidating, mysterious, and alluring in every sense of the word. You see this group stalk and murder other children, and once their sights set on Abra a slow burn game of cat and mouse begins, with some unexpected surprises for all parties thrown in along the way that up the ante even more. King doesn’t rush this prolonged confrontation, and he sets the pieces into place in very intentional ways that come together seamlessly. But I think that one of the best achievements that King does, at least for me, is that he makes you kind of care about The True Knot as well, at least in some ways. You get a deep dive into who they are and how they function, and by the time things start to go down you find yourself invested, even if you know that they are monstrous and terrible. He gives them, especially Rose, complexity and nuance, and I ended up loving her when all was said and done, even if it was because of what a horrible and terrifying villain she is.
I think that a lot of people believed that there was no way that King could write a sequel to “The Shining”. And, in some ways, I think they are right. Because “Doctor Sleep” is its own story, its own identity, and while it may be the continuing story of Danny Torrance, it doesn’t feel like a direct sequel. It feels like King achieved a lot more than that, and has expanded a world and a story in ways that only time and experience could have aided. It’s not a perfect book; there are some hiccups, and moments of cloying coincidence or sappiness, but honestly, I love this story so much that I can easily forgive these stumbles. I have high hopes going into the movie, but even if I don’t care for the adaptation, I know that I can revisit this book and find deep, deep enjoyment. “Doctor Sleep” is probably my favorite of the recent King novels. You don’t have to be a fan of “The Shining” to enjoy it.
And with that, we end Horrorpalooza 2019! I hope that everyone has a Happy Halloween and that you get all the scares. And if you don’t want the scares, all the candy!
Rating 10: A deep, emotionally wrenching, and quite creepy follow up to a classic horror story, “Doctor Sleep” examines familiar characters and themes with an eye for trauma, redemption, and hope.
“Doctor Sleep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Adult Books That Feature Powerful or Magic Children”, and “Creepy Halloween Reads”.
Find “Doctor Sleep” at your library using WorldCat!