Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Review: "Doctor Sleep," by Stephen King

Long years have passed since the events of “The Shining,” and Danny, now Dan Torrance, has found himself in a position that, considering his father, he never thought he’d be in. He’s a raging alcoholic. After years of trying to deal with his talents, he turned to booze to numb them and drive them away. He wanders from place to place, finding work, usually at a local hospice, for as long as he can until the drink causes problems that he must run away from. His latest drunken misadventure, though, may be rock bottom even for him.

Running from it, he ends up in a small New Hampshire town. He stops there because his childhood “friend” Tony appears after a long absence, indicating this is the place. In Frazier, he finds something he needs – friends who are willing to help him and a job, which because of his talents, he’s quite good at in the local hospice. His talent, in fact, earns him a nickname on the staff, Doctor Sleep.

But as Dan is sobering up and finding himself, someone else is trying to make contact with him. A young girl named Abra Stone, whose shining makes Dan’s look small by comparison, reaches out to him – in little ways, at first, but then more forcefully. Her power has attracted the attention of a nasty group of creatures known as the True Knot, and the danger they present may lead Dan back to Colorado to face some of his worst fears.

I was both intrigued and a little hesitant about a sequel to “The Shining” all these years later. It could be a truly inspired work, or it could be a cash-in by an author coming to the end of his career. While I was once a huge fan, I’ve had mixed feelings on King’s more current work for many years now. I’m happy to report, though, that “Doctor Sleep” is the former. In fact, I think it might be King’s best horror novel in a long, long time.

It seems kind of weird to say this, but the book reminds me a little of his son’s latest work, “N0S4A2.” King offers a little tip of the hat to his boy’s novel in the early going, and I have to wonder if perhaps his son’s work, which seemed to me to be something of a tribute to his father, had any influence on “Doctor Sleep.” Either way, I see a lot of stylistic and subject similarities, which I don’t consider a bad thing at all.

I’d not read “The Shining” since I was a teenager, so I revisited it before jumping into this one and was glad I did. While you don’t necessarily need a refresher course to jump into the sequel, I found that it added a little to my enjoyment.

Earlier in the year, I revisited my favorite Stephen King novel, “It,” and I was struck by how I still managed to relate to it after all these years, if perhaps in a different way than I did as a teen. “Doctor Sleep” provides an even more interesting take on how my viewpoint has changed. Obviously, when I first read “The Shining,” my sympathies were with Danny. Though I was a good bit older than him, I still had some of that childish wonder in me and still identified with him. When a grown-up me visited with a grown-up Dan Torrance in this book, I found even more connections. I’ve never been an alcoholic, and obviously don’t have psychic powers (though I think they might be useful), but I definitely relate to a man that’s made bad mistakes, hit rock bottom in his life and is working to try to get things turned around.

“Doctor Sleep” is not without its issues. One of the big “secrets” in the book is pretty obvious early on, particularly if you’ve read “The Shining” recently, and there are moments when things seemed to me to be just a bit too easy for the good guys. Those things didn’t really bother me as much as they might have in the grand scheme, though. Whether that’s a bit of nostalgia kicking in or King unwinding a really good tale, I’ll leave to the reader to decide.

Overall, I thought it was a great read that will remind you of some of King’s best work from the past. It delivers likeable characters that you can identify with and a pretty colorful baddie for them to deal with, and it had me reading longer than I planned on several nights. When a book can do that these days, it’s a winner.

No comments: