Once upon a time, in a December when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, the historic Overlook Hotel burned to the ground. Blame fell squarely on the shoulders of a defective boiler, which the caretaker bravely tried to do something about. To no avail.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s what happened at the end of The Shining by Stephen King. Jack Torrance became
himself at the end—as best I remember—but not before he tried to kill his wife Wendy. And his little boy, Danny.
Danny Torrance is all grown up now. Call him Dan. Or, as the residents and employees of the Helen Rivington House come to call him, Doctor Sleep. Because Dan still has the shining, and he’s using it to ease the elderly residents of the Rivington to the other side when their time comes, aided by a cat named Audrey who knows when these worthies are ready to depart. It’s the only time Audrey goes into their rooms. After years of being a wandering drunk, Dan Torrance has found a home in Frazier, New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, traveling the highways and byways of this great country of ours, there’s a group of folks called the True Knot—ancient people, and they look it, driving around in their Winnebagos and Bounders. They’re RV people, the kind you wouldn’t look twice at. You see them in rest areas, wintering in Florida, summering farther north.
You’d never think they travel the country seeking out kids who have the shining—and torturing them to death for the “steam” they provide. But they are, and their lives are about to intersect with those of Dan Torrance and a girl named Abra Stone, whose shining is far more powerful than Dan’s.
I won’t go any farther than that, because I don’t want to take the chance on giving away any spoilers. But I will say that this is the best book Stephen King has written in quite some time.
I was leery of it at first. Though I’m a fan of Mr. King, I haven’t been overly impressed with his latest books, especially Under the Dome and Duma Key. 11/22/63 was okay, if only because of the things I learned anew about the Kennedy assassination. And it had that quality that most time travel stories have, with the twist that it was a Stephen King time travel story.
In his afterword to Doctor Sleep, Mr. King talks about often wondering—along with many fans—what ever happened to little Danny Torrance after the events of The Shining. Going back and visiting a story like that after so long—especially when you consider the status that novel enjoys as a classic beloved by so many—is a risky business at best. You’re taking old, familiar characters and doing new things with them. Fans can get upset when you do that. Witness what happened with George Lucas after he released the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
If you’re a fan of The Shining, you can lay your worries to rest when it comes to Doctor Sleep.
When I first started reading it, I kept thinking I’d give it up. Most of the opening material serves to both bridge the gap between The Shining and Doctor Sleep, and introduce us to the True Knot and their weirding ways.
Typical RV people they are not.
But I kept reading. I wanted to see how Dan and Abra met. And I wanted to know what happened when they did. How do you introduce a young teen girl and an older recovering alcoholic in this day and time when that kind of thing is viewed with suspicion at best? And how would all this connect (I almost said tie in with till I saw the unintended pun; talk about editing on the fly) with the True Knot?
Though it starts kinda slow, Doctor Sleep is a worthy novel. I had to remind myself that Stephen King doesn’t write about situations with characters in them, he writes about characters in situations—an important distinction. He starts with characters first, gets to know them very well, before throwing them in the meat grinder. And he always throws them in the meat grinder, no doubt about that.
But while I couldn’t get truly involved with the characters in books like Under the Dome and Duma Key, I became emotionally involved with Dan and Abra and all the other characters who populate Doctor Sleep, and it’s not only well worth reading, it’s also emotionally moving in the end. I’ll leave it to you to find out how.
So if you’re a fan of The Shining and you’ve been leery of reading this book, put your fears to rest: it’s a worthy sequel in the best of ways—an all too rare thing these days. And if you’re not a fan of the former, maybe you should read it before picking this one up. Though this one is a standalone, it’ll still read better if you know The Shining beforehand—and I’m talking about the novel, not the Stanley Kubrick movie.