Published by Scribner
Publication date: September 24th 2013
If you are one of the five people on the planet who has never read Stephen King let me bring you up to speed. He is the prolific writer of some of the all-time scariest books in history. The only way I was able to read The Shiningwas when I worked in a manufacturing plant, on work breaks, midday in a brightly lit room, sitting on a chair with my back to the wall and an open field of vision. If something was going to come at me, I wanted to be able to see it and run—even though running does no good, Stephen King monsters have so many other ways to get you. Now, over 30 years later telepathic boy hero, Danny Torrance is back in The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep. .
Things have not gone so well for Dan Torrance since his hellish winter at the Overlook hotel where his father tried to kill he and his mother. Dear old dad died in the attempt but Danny had a difficult time reconciling his gift (the shining) to everyday life. Sadly, Doctor Sleep opens with a drunken Torrance trying to navigate his way out of a strange woman’s apartment. Torrance drinks, despite his father having been an alcoholic and his fears of ending up the same way, because it numbs his psychic skills. The ‘other’ world doesn’t howl quite so loudly in a brain stuffed with booze. Shortly after this last encounter, Torrance makes his way from the South back to the familiar environs of New England where he stops in a small town, joins AA, and rejoins the living world- for better or worse.
At the same time we’re meeting the close-to-bottomed-out Torrance we’re also given our first glimpse of the monsters-du-jour in the novel. An impossibly gorgeous brunette who always wears a scuffed velvet top hat leads a group known as the True Knot. This band of funsters stays alive by torturing children who have paranormal gifts. The steam their bodies release as they are dying is an elixir of immortality for them. Their fiendish reality is cleverly hidden by their outer appearance as older, RV driving, bingo playing, seniors. Who, if you were around them long enough, could suddenly appear decades younger and have memories of events occurring hundreds of years ago. In a typically macabre twist King gives them all circus-y names like Baba the Russian, Jimmy the Steamhead, Heavy Mary, and Snakebite Andi.
Abra Stone is born without too much commotion in 2001 but five months later her parents both dream of her little chest with different numbers scratched on it. When they awake, Abra is crying and cannot be stopped no matter what they try. At the hospital even their pediatrician is unable to find a cause but the tiny infant continues to wail. Right up until 9:06 am that morning, September 11, 2001 after the second plane crashes into the WTC tower. Then she falls asleep. By the time she is a little girl Abra’s unusual abilities are not new to her parents. What they don’t know is that even before 9/11, at only two months old, Abra has already reached out from her pre-verbal but highly developed mind to another she somehow knows will understand, Dan Torrance.
So the key groups are set, masterfully supported by a cast of ancillary characters who are as nurturing, frightening, and lovable as they need to be. If you don’t yet have a sense of where Doctor Sleep is going, don’t worry. King is an accomplished and skilled driver who leads the reader on a high speed chase through small town America, what we see and can’t see, and the battle between good and evil. None of this is new territory for King but that is beside the point. What is more amazing is that he consistently finds new ways, new stories to illustrate the same theme. That and the fact that he scares the living hell out of us.
Reading The Shining is not necessary to enjoy Doctor Sleep. Both are creepy, nerve jangling tales that stand on their own. If you have read a lot of Stephen King then you will see a difference in this novel. With a few exceptions, he relies less on gore and more on the true terror of the unknown. Abra is a marvelous protagonist and even though events culminate when she is only thirteen, King imbues her with a strength and confidence wonderful to see in a female protagonist. Dan Torrance is every bit as flawed and heroic as one would expect from a man who, as a boy, took on an entire haunted hotel and prevailed. All in all, there are no missteps in Doctor Sleep. Once started, it demands to be finished and even if you think you have it figured out, you don’t. Stephen King is always one step ahead and I wouldn’t have it any other way—even if I need to sleep with the lights on for a night or two.
Are you a Stephen King fan? If you’ve read any of his books, which is your favorite?