Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (2013)
Life was a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it had started.
In the sequel to one of Stephen King’s best known books, The Shining, Danny Torrance–now grown up–must protect a 13-year-old girl who has the shine from a band of psychic vampires.
When I first heard that this book was coming out, I remember thinking that there was no way a sequel could do justice to The Shining, which is one of my top-5 favorite Stephen King books. Like Black House, the sequel to The Talisman, Doctor Sleep follows a young King hero into adulthood. But while Black House had only a superficial connection to its predecessor, Doctor Sleep really does logically continue the events of The Shining into the present day, and it does so better than I could have expected. I think you could enjoy Doctor Sleep without having read The Shining first, but I think something would be lost.
The book is about a band of psychic vampires, called the True Knot, who are led by an evil ancient woman named Rose the Hat, and who feed off the life essence of children with the shining, psychic and telekinetic powers. Dan Torrance, all grown up and a recovering alcoholic trying to start over, forms a connection with a young girl named Abra Stone through his psychic abilities, so when she is targeted by the True Knot, she calls on him for help. He gathers together a small band of good men to go to her rescue, although since her powers are so strong, she does a lot of the fighting herself. It’s always nice to have a young heroine who can stand up for herself against the things that threaten her.
Doctor Sleep takes it easy on the reader, for the most part, which I think diminishes its impact. I’m not saying that this is an altogether gentle book; there is some suspense, and a couple of tense moments, but there are no real scares. The True Knot, in particular, are not as scary as they could be, coming off largely as white-trash RV’ers. In the scares department, Doctor Sleep is particularly lacking when compared to The Shining, which (in my opinion) is King’s scariest book. (The only one that comes close is It, but the images King created in The Shining just linger in the imagination.) In fact, the biggest scare in Doctor Sleep comes right at the beginning, and that is just an echo of The Shining’s horrors.
The characters are all very likable, and we’re rooting for them, but let’s face it–they are all familiar King hero-types from way back. In Abra Stone, for instance, don’t we also see Charlie McGee and even Carrie White? Of course we do. So it’s a good story, a quick read, but smacks a little of ‘been there, done that.’
What does King do particularly well in Doctor Sleep? I think it’s the under-story, depicting the fall and slow recovery of an alcoholic. Dan Torrance battles his internal ghosts: his memories of his drunk, abusive, and eventually murderous father; the horrors of the Overlook Hotel, which still haunt him; and the memory of the worst thing he ever did when he hit bottom. He comes through it all to find a sense of peace with his own powers, a purpose to his life, and even a family. Two scenes that come at the end, which I won’t spoil, were particularly moving to me. We see in Dan Torrance an counter-argument to what Jack Torrance‘s life was, a statement that it is possible to face the worst things inside ourselves and conquer them, and then go on.
The most frightening monsters are the ones that we create inside ourselves. Stephen King knows this. I sometimes wish he would write about them more often.
If you liked this book, you might also like: Joyland by Stephen King