I suppose it would not be so far out there to state that Stephen King is part of my psyche now. After all I have been reading him since early adolescence which makes his stories part of my collective experience as any. Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining one of King’s first and best novels.
I remember reading ‘The Shining’ when I was around fourteen it was part of a collection of his first three published stories in one hardback – considering, over the years how prolific he has been it’s really showing my age, and grey hair – the other two ‘Carrie’ and ‘Salem’s Lot’ have been filmed and are in the horror museum of popular culture. I only read ‘The Shining’ once ‘Salem’s lot’ twice and ‘Carrie’ his first and weakest novel never. I did try but it went nowhere – though I think the first filmed version with Sissy Spaceck to be the best. As I remember ‘The Shining’ became the standard certainly in literature of to how to write a horror novel – actually considering horror, how to write in general. The film directed by Stanly Kubrick is one of the essential films of its time and not only as a horror film. But there are a lot of differences between the novel and the film which infuriated Stephen King at the time. But let’s deal with the novel first.
The Shining dealt with Jack Torrance a writer and teacher and ex-alcoholic who becomes caretaker over the winter season, isolated and alone, with his family, Wendy his wife and Danny his youngest and only son, at the Overlook a five star historic hotel situated in the Colorado Rockies. However the hotel is haunted by malicious consciousness and several undesirable entities anyone who is a horror fan knows what these are. Things don’t go too well for Jack who eventually gets possessed by the evil incarnation of the hotel and tries to kill both his wife and son. Danny is psychic and as an imaginary friend Tony who appears to him when he focuses and in great distress (and we find out at the end of the book is actually him ten years older). When Danny first arrives at the hotel he meets Dick Halloran chef at the hotel who is also psychic and tells Danny that his psychic gifts the Halloran calls ‘Shining’. It’s this Shining that the entity and entities at the hotel want, to get it they have to kill Danny. Danny sends a psychic distress out to Halloran when things start to go from bad to worse at the Overlook. Halloran who always had misgivings about leaving the family isolated over the winter in the Overlook travels back to help Danny. Jack Torrance ends up being killed in an explosion from the boilers that ultimately destroys the hotel. The Epilogue finds Wendy and Danny being consoled by Halloran at a Main resort in the summer a year later after the death of his father.
It goes without saying that it would be a really good idea to read The Shining before Doctor Sleep. Now Doctor Sleep does it stand up to the original? Well not really though it is still a great read I found that it lacked some of the psychological horror so prevalent in the first. However it does make up for it more in excitement sort of what Aliens is to Alien, as there is more in the way of chase than the original. There are shades of King’s earlier works here ‘Firestarter’, ‘Carrie’ a little of other outside influences such as ‘The Sixth Sense’.
Danny now all grown up is taking a page out of his father’s book and has become an alcoholic and is basically drifting around going from bar fight to one night stands and hangovers. Ripping off woman he’s slept with and in general being a shit. However on one occasion a one night stand comes to haunt him. Danny physically and mentally exhausted from alcoholism settles in a town of Frazier in New Hampshire where he attends AA meetings – I have a problem with the Alcoholics Anonymous appearing more and more King’s later work (‘The Library Policeman’ from his ‘Four Past Midnight’ collection comes to mind) but he kind of goes into overkill with it here. But I digress, he eventually finds work as a care worker in an hospice for the terminal elderly, his psychic powers reawakened is able to let the dying cross over peaceably this earns the nickname ‘Doctor Sleep’.
Abra Stone a baby born a few months before the 9/11 event, which causes her to go into an inconsolable crying fit at the time, is finding her own psychic abilities growing this includes ‘Carrie’ type phenomena and after a couple of years contacting Danny. Abra ‘Shining’ is far stronger than Danny, think of Carrie on steroids.
We are then introduced the True Knot sort of red neck middle-age folk who travel around the country looking for disasters to feed on and when resting prefer spots like Salem’s Lot or the plot of land where the Overlook hotel once stood. But far from their benign appearance as retiree travelers they are actually psychic vampires who feed on the shining which they call ‘Steam’ and they get it from torturing and killing slowly children with the gift such as Abra, though as I’ve stated, disasters such as 9/11 can be very nutritious to them.
Once their leader Rose the Hat gets wind of Abra when Abra is a young teenager and ripe for the picking she formulates a plan to kidnap and torture her for her steam which should help heal them as they have contracted measles from their last victim and are now dying off one by one.
This is a good read, apart from the AA stuff as I found it be a little preachy, but that aside it was still gripping. King at his worst is still better than most at their best so apart from the odd annoyance it still far superior to some I could mention. I found the True Knot to be somewhat a letdown as villains but I did enjoy Rose the Hat. Abra struck me as an older version of ‘Charlie’ the child hero of ‘Firestarter’. The first part of the book seems a little bit of homage to King’s earlier work and the second part tense chase sequence with revelations about Abra’s family and Jack Torrance nearing the end. I enjoyed it and was turning those pages near the end as the tension of cat and mouse between Abra and Danny verses Rose the Hat and what was left of her motley crew. This is worth reading and enjoying for the sake of itself it hasn’t the psychological impact and punch of the first novel and not the power. But sequels rarely do but I do believe that King enjoyed writing this and there is a fondness in the creative input that is in some ways like father and son relationship. Despite not being as powerful as the original, it’s well worth the effort to check it out as I found a fun, exciting and rewarding read.