Stephen King's 'Doctor Sleep'
An Introspective look at the sequel to 'The Shining'
Stephen King's Doctor Sleep: A Book Review
"Dig if you will, this picture..."
(Prince—"When Doves Cry")
A loner with amazing powers but a dark and tragic past finds himself the unlikely mentor and protector of a young girl with powers similar to his own. Now he is in a race against time to fend off an evil organization who wants the girl and others like her for their own nefarious ends.
Does this plot sound familiar?
It certainly did to me, so I can't claim my expectations were terribly high when I picked up Stephen King's 2013 book Doctor Sleep, a direct sequel to his 1977 book The Shining. Now you don't NEED to read The Shining to understand Doctor Sleep since there are enough callbacks to the original book that you, the reader, can figure out what happened through context clues, but I HIGHLY recommend reading the original novel before digging into Doctor Sleep as put together, the two books do make one complete and cohesive narrative.
Clocking at just over the 650 page mark, Doctor Sleep isn't King's longest work out there, yet this works perfectly for the story, keeping it creatively tight and self-contained, and this is a big plus if you are just burned out from reading volumes and volumes of a particular series just to follow a conversation between two characters.
I will keep my spoilers to a bare minimum because I really do encourage you to check out this book. I will say this though... the book is a sequel to the book and the associated film is a sequel to the film. If the extent of your knowledge of the The Shining is the Kubrick film and you are going to jump into Doctor Sleep from there, then you need to be aware of two major changes between the book and film. In the book, towards the end, Jack Torrence tried to fight off the effects the Overlook Hotel was having on him, and that cost him his life. His final act was in defiance of the evil that was the Overlook. Secondly, in the book, the character Dick Halloran survived the Overlook.
The second of those facts is important to the start of the book because it speaks directly to Halloran's relationship with Winnie and Danny Torrence after they tried to move on, wherein Dick continued to mentor Danny and his use of the Shining. Dick actually lived several years afterwards and thats important to note.
Our story begins a few years after the destruction of the Overlook Hotel and follows young Danny and his mom making ends meet. One fateful night, the bathtub ghost from the Overlook appears in Danny's bathroom, only she leaves physical evidence behind, proving to the widow Torrence that the ghosts have indeed followed them from Colorado to Florida. She places a call to Dick to come and talk to Danny because the boy has all but shut down. Perfectly understandable for a kid who just saw a naked corpse woman sitting on his toilet.
Dick comes around and relates a story about his own childhood abuse at the hands of his grandfather and how "Black Grandpa" tormented him even after the horrible old man's death. Dick then teaches Danny a trick, creating lock boxes in his mind where in to trap the evil spirits. This, you may have guessed, becomes important.
Again, this is an area where King shines, pun not intended, with his shorter books. Elements like the ghost boxes are paid off at a pace where you don't have time to forget about them. They are kept in the back of your mind, like the boxes are for our main character, and are accessible to us the readers.
Danny transitions into the adult Dan, and succumbs to anger issues and alcoholism not unlike his father before him. Years of slowly dismantling his life after his mother's death result in an incident that becomes his definitive moment of tragedy. He looks back on it with such self-loathing and regret that the guilt of it threatens to end him. He finds the road to redemption through alcoholics anonymous and a job as a handyman in New Hampshire. He's led here by Tony, a "character" that is both easy and difficult to explain at the same time, especially if you aren't familiar with the original book.
Let me take a stab at it. In The Shining, Tony was Danny's imaginary friend, later revealed to be an older version of himself created to help him deal with the shine. That makes a kind of sense.
Until Danny grows up to be Dan, but while Dan is now getting close to forty years old, Tony remains a teenager... and develops a social life of his own
This is where Abra Stone comes in. She is a girl with the shine. The way Dan explains it in the context of the story is, if he (Dan) is a flashlight, Abra is a lighthouse. She is that much more powerful than Dan, and even reaches out to him as an infant. As Abra grows into a small child, she becomes friends with Tony. As weird as that sounds, that's exactly what happens. It's through Tony that she creates a bond with Dan.
Now any good story needs a villain, and this is where King's creative mind turns the mundane into the sinister. Rose the Hat, named as such for her ever-present top hat, leads a secret society of psychic parasites called the True Knot. These reprehensible people have been in operation for hundreds of years, if not longer, and feed off kids who shine. Why kids? Because they are viewed as easy targets. Maybe they read Pennywise's playbook. It, honestly, wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that the True Knot are somehow tied (pun totally intended) to IT. What makes Rose and her merry band of serial killers so frightening is that they operate in a caravan of Winnebagos and RVs, touring North America under the guise of tourists but quietly feeding on suffering. When it comes to kids who shine, they kidnap and actively torture the children before absorbing their essence as a means of making what they call "steam," i.e. shine, stronger and tastier. King is really good at making you hate his villains.
Now Dan works at a hospice where he eases the dying into the afterlife, and gains the moniker "Doctor Sleep." Abra is a preteen, and through her abilities gains the attention of Rose and company. Dan and his friends step in and I am not going to tell you how it all plays out because that's the point of reading the book.
I will say that the ending comes full circle with The Shining and a character comes back for final redemption.
Some themes that are important in this novel are: facing your past, not being defined by it, and probably most importantly, forgiving yourself. Dan's journey is just as emotionally brutal as it is physical, but it redefines him as a person in the process. It refines him, like fires burning off the impurities that taint otherwise precious metals.
Overall, the book was amazing and I highly recommend giving it a read. The film adaptation will hit theaters October 30th, 2019, worldwide and specifically in the United States November 3rd. Remember, read The Shining in association with this book, but watch the movie before seeing the new film.
Thanks for reading.