Originally published on September 27, 2013 at 10:47 pm
(Please note, I will attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible, referring to plot points that are readily available on the dust jacket. However, if you donâ€™t want to know anything, read the book first and then come back for the review.)
Stephen King celebrated his 66thÂ birthday on Sept 21 by giving us a belated gift a few days later: his sequel toÂ The ShiningÂ â€“Â Doctor Sleep. Itâ€™s hard to believe that in a career which spans over 40 years, this is only his second sequel (the first being Black House, a sequel to The Talisman, both co written with Peter Straub. The Dark Tower books were always meant to be seen as one story so they donâ€™t qualify as sequels), and what a follow-up it is.
Itâ€™s important to note that while you donâ€™t need to have readÂ The ShiningÂ to understand what happens inÂ Doctor Sleep, lots of little tidbits will be lost. King makes dutiful reference to the original on a very regular basis, to the point this could actually be a standalone novel.Â Another thing to keep in mind, forget the movie. This is King territory weâ€™re in, and not even Kubrickâ€™s ghost can take that away.
Doctor SleepÂ begins a year or so after the events ofÂ The ShiningÂ and brings us through Danny Torranceâ€™s life as at a brisk pace. We watch in dismay as he follows in his fatherâ€™s alcoholic footsteps, witness his drug and booze fueled bottom (in a scene so well written, it nearly brought me to tears), and ultimately the beginning of his recovery and redemption.
As interesting as this is, there wouldnâ€™t be much of a story if it were just Danny, and King brings in some new characters, including Abra, a young girl whoâ€™s own powers dwarfs Dannyâ€™s; his AA sponsor Casey, a no nonsense type who gives him his first job on the road to sobriety; Bill a groundskeeper and miniature train driver with a bit of shining as well. Perhaps most interesting of all are the True Knot, a roving band of motor home driving, middle aged vampires. Not vampires in the blood sucking sense, but certainly vampires in their own way (with none of the tropes and rules to hamper their behavior).
When we meet them for the first time, theyâ€™re in the process of inducting their newest member in a scene told in horrifying and creepy as hell detail. These are people you donâ€™t want to mess with. To keep their strength (and long lives), they seek out children, torture them, kill them and absorb their essence.Â Each member of the True Knot has their own sort of ability, and theyâ€™re all guided by the tough talking, beautiful, and nastiest of them all, Rose the Hat.
As is bound to happen, Danny and Abra are destined to meet and go toe to toe with Rose. Thatâ€™s about as much plot as Iâ€™ll give away, and if it sounds like a familiar journey, it is. However, as the old saying goes, itâ€™s the trip and not the destination that matters.Â And King manages to take us on a memorable trip.
If it was simply the trip, and seeing Danny as a grown up, that would be one thing, but King has other things on his mind. Life, death, regret, and sins of the father being passed onto the son.Â Unlike previous novels where King got a bit preachy, his ideas seem a natural extension of the characters and story.
King frames a lot of this within the context of Dannyâ€™s recovery and the rooms and meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Â How you feel about the buzzwords and nearly clichÃ© sayings may very well have an impact on how you enjoy the book. As someone whoâ€™s been involved with 12 step programs for nearly 30 years, it gave me a coming home feeling.
King can create believable, sympathetic characters like no one else. You can relate to everyone, and develop attachments to them, and King does it better inÂ Doctor SleepÂ than he has in many years. As a long time reader, Iâ€™ve not always liked everything heâ€™s done. Some of his later works it seems heâ€™s tried too hard to write and not enough effort in doing what he does best, telling a story.Â Whether heâ€™s been writing to ensure a legacy, Iâ€™m not sure, but make no mistake; Doctor Sleep is a novel that would fit very nicely among some of his best works.
At 500 plus pages, it moves at a good clip, with very little downtime.Â Youâ€™ll be propelled to the next paragraph, the next page, the next chapter.
Is it perfect? No, I do have some minor qualms with a few things towards the middle, and youâ€™ll see some of the twists a mile away, butÂ Doctor SleepÂ is so damn emotional and well done, they can be forgiven and perhaps forgotten.
King has thrown some seeds in the garden, and while you may know what the crop is, itâ€™s never tasted this good.