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Doctor Sleep

The first Stephen King novel I read was The Stand. Not having read his entire oeuvre, I can’t be sure when I say that it seems to stand alone among his novels, but when I later picked up The Shining (which was actually written earlier), I found an entirely new type of story. Where The Stand was one of my favorite genres, a kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy battle between the forces of good and evil, The Shining was one of the most compelling horror novels I’d ever read. While the overworked “keep you reading all night” phrase gets thrown around often, I really did stay up half the night reading it.

Since summer is the season for long, decadently entertaining novels, when I saw Doctor Sleep in a discount bin recently I thought I’d enjoy what was billed as “A Sequel to The Shining.”

Stephen King is the master of “betcha can’t eat just one” writing. It’s late, you’re tired, you look ahead to see how many pages left til the end of the chapter, and it’s 10. With most other books you finish the paragraph and insert the bookmark. With King, you finish the chapter.

Perhaps his reads-easy style is simply a matter of how much he has written – he has to be one of the most prolific writers of our age. While he concentrates on horror and fantasy, he has also published non-fiction and even song lyrics. But when the name “Stephen King” is mentioned, most of us will conjure up some form of horror or supernatural tale.

I rarely am happy with movie adaptations of books I really enjoy – usually because in reading them I have created my own “film” that I see, even years later in re-reading a favorite, and the movie rarely lives up to my imagination. The Shining, directed by the incomparable Stanley Kubrick, though it didn’t include some of what I felt were King’s best horrific tricks, like the stealthily moving topiary animals, or the fire hose snake, more than lived up to the spirit of that novel. From the ominous early overhead shots of a car driving up a winding mountain road, to Jack Nicholson’s perfect over-acting as Jack Torrance, and the haunts-your-nightmares shot of the two little girls in the hallway, Kubrick captured the essence, if not all the details, of a truly scary book.

Doctor Sleep picks up the thread of Dan Torrance’s life, when, as an adult, he tamps down the psychic abilities we saw in him as a young child in The Shining using alcohol. A wandering drunk moving from place to place and job to job, he hits his proverbial “bottom” when he takes a young addict’s last cash and ignores the pleas of her toddler whose mother is too stoned to hear. When he later learns that he abandoned them both to their last chance, his remorse, and his “shining,” lead him to a small New England town, an AA program, and a psychic link with a little girl who outshines even Dan Torrance. And she is being stalked by a gypsy caravan of some of the weirdest villains ever dreamed up by a horror novelist.

Part vampire, part ancient bandits, part disgusting and wicked creatures from a bad dream, the group preys on regular people for the essence of their deaths – made all the more tasty when those people have the flavor of “shining,” the more the better. And they’ve discovered young Abra, who has a heaping helping. Now it’s up to Dan, and his shining friends, to help her defeat them.

A few times King played a card that I recalled made me swear off his books for a while: in general, a writer is either a character in his book, often written in the first person, and who has opinions and reactions to events; or the writer is omniscient and sees all, knows all, but doesn’t “comment.” King, in an abundance of political passion, added strong commentary to his otherwise non-specific author in a short story I read some years back. It wasn’t whether I agreed or disagreed – it was that it pulled me out of the “dream state” of reading fiction that I objected to. With many other books to read, I made other choices.

And though I would readily recommend this book to any reader who enjoys a fine scare, good character development, original ideas and solid writing, he did resort more than once to a political swipe where one wasn’t needed, and didn’t add anything to the narrative, especially as his writer was otherwise not a character in the story. Stephen King is far too accomplished a writer to need to waste his time, and ours, with political snark. We get enough of that in “real” life.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.