Stephen King, after more than 30 years, follows up his classic “The Shining” with a sequel, of sorts, “Doctor Sleep.” Not only does he do justice to the legacy of “The Shining,” this is a great book, filled with good characters, dialogue, and twists and turns.
I’ve never read King’s fiction. My reasons could fill an essay of it own. So I will give a crib notes version. For most of my life, I was part of a religious group that viewed authors like King as inspired by evil spirits. In my later years, as a middle-aged college student reading Brontë, Wilde, and Carver, I developed the elitist attitude that King didn’t deserve my attention.
Sorry Mr. King. I was wrong. People read King because this novel is filled with great ideas, and he knows how to tell a story.
“Doctor Sleep” tells the story of Danny Torrance, who survived his father’s attempt to kill him and his mother in “The Shining.” Now just Dan, he drifts from town to town, sleeping with strange women and getting drunk. Dan, like his father, is an alcoholic, and justifies drinking because it diminishes his psychic abilities.
He eventually settles in a New Hampshire town, getting help from a local Alcoholics Anonymous. But, as King unfolds Dan’s story, he also introduces two major characters: Abra Stone and Rose the Hat.
Abra, is a girl who contacts Dan through a chalkboard in his attic room. They eventually develop a bond. Abra – as in abracadabra – shares the same gifts Dan has, but she’s much more powerful.
Rose the Hat, however, is leader of a group calling themselves the True Knot, a group that consumes “steam,” the psychic energy of children with the shining. This “steam” gives them the ability to live, if living is what they are, for centuries.
Of course, all three stories converge, and “Doctor Sleep” transforms from a collection of character studies of gifted people to an action story. The climax has a Hollywood movie feel to it.
Calling “Doctor Sleep” a sequel to “The Shining” is unfair and not entirely accurate. The first few chapters catch the reader up on Dan’s life since the events at the Overlook. But this story is Dan’s, and the tone is different from “The Shining.” While that novel had King writing about his own personal demons, “Doctor Sleep” is about finding peace with one’s past and healing. I have never read “The Shining,” having only seen the Stanley Kubrick version. Yet I had little trouble understanding the back story.
The theme of family runs throughout “Doctor Sleep,” with Dan dealing with his own family issues, Abra becoming a teenager and her relationship with her family, and even the True Knot, who function as a family, albeit one that feeds off tortured children. King also takes the opportunity to write about his fondness for AA, treating it like another type of family bond.
I read “Doctor Sleep” over three nights. King keeps the narrative moving and ended each chapter tempting me to read just a little further before I went to bed. However, “Doctor Sleep” has one weakness, a reliance on coincidence. Some of this can be chalked up to the psychic abilities of the characters. But even Dan admits in the novel that there may be one coincidence to many to maintain credibility.
But that’s a small complaint in an otherwise enjoyable, and surprisingly upbeat, novel. I plan to read more of King’s novels. He certainly has written plenty to choose from. With a new film adaptation of “Carrie” in theaters, perhaps I will give that story, King’s first novel, a fair reading.