As superhuman abilities go, mind-reading has to be one of the worst. I mean yes, it’d be nice to call people on their bullshit, and the bar-trick possibilities are endless, but for the most part humans are vile creatures, and our thoughts the headquarters of depravity. Add to that telepathic stew an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, plus a haunted hotel bent on your family’s destruction, and it’s no wonder that Danny Torrance, the child clairvoyant at the center of Stephen King’s The Shining, grew up to be Dan Torrance, an alcoholic and immoral drifter who drinks to dull the memories and manifestations of his own power.
Releasing a fiction sequel more than thirty years after its predecessor is the kind of gambit only Stephen King can pull off (though credit is due to the movie adaptation he’s so consistently talked down) and King, fortunately, seems to recognize the absurdity of trying to pick up where we left off, literally in ashes (in the book, the hotel blows up). And So Doctor Sleep is cast forward — through Danny’s troubled teenage years and his struggle to forget the Overlook (uh, YEAH), and into the present, where Obama is president, the Internet exists, and an adolescent boy band called ‘Round Here is at peak popularity. Even Twitter gets a mention.
In the present, Dan has learned – mostly through drinking – to temper his visions, and wanders from town to town doing odd jobs until some drunken episode forces him to pack up and move on. It’s only after settling down and getting sober that he is forced to face his shining head-on, and in so doing stumbles across a young girl in need of his help.
Dan is 100 percent an Official Stephen King Male Protagonist: scrappy guy with a dubious past, a heart of gold and maybe a substance-abuse problem (see: Eddie from The Dark Tower series, Stu in The Stand, Dale from Under the Dome, etc.) But Danny is, of course, no stranger – we’ve already seen him defeat evil shrubbery and a bathtub-hoarding lady corpse – and so I was from the very first page rooting for him, and against whatever wicked shit I assumed King had cooked up.
The wicked shit turns out to be the best part of Doctor Sleep, though I can’t say why or how without disclosing certain juicy spoilers. Suffice it to say that King has created one of his better villains, made all the more compelling by the fact that …it exists in the real world — a tangible thing that our human heroes can fight. Not that I don’t love a good King ghost, or inexplicable force, or creature from another dimension; but sometimes it’s nice to have the good guys go up against something that’s a little more easy to hate.
As with most things King, Doctor Sleep drags a little – without being able to point to any specific scenes, it feels like he could have stood to knock off 50 pages. But the book is never dull, and has enough twists to keep you guessing. It’s also nice to see King truly explore “the shining,” which is given less overt attention in the first novel, or is at least overshadowed by the aforementioned tub lady. In Doctor Sleep, the shining is a fully imagined ability, with limits and nuances. Overall, the novel appeals in the way a Harry Potter book about Ron would: We’re inherently interested, and everything is kind of a pleasantly off. It’s a fresh perspective.
It’s not strictly necessary to have read The Shining before reading Doctor Sleep (though it is probably necessary, or at least preferable, to have seen the movie). But I was definitely able to appreciate Doctor Sleep more having read its predecessor; small references made it clear that, however many years have passed, this is very much a sequel. Most importantly, Jack Torrance (Danny’s father) is a different person in Kubrick’s version of The Shining. It made for a memorable film to have Jack Nicholson get all insane and stare-y, but in the novel Jack struggled with his conversion. He knew, during moments of clarity, that he was being manipulated by the hotel; he ultimately destroyed it (and himself) to save his family. It’s this iteration of Jack that informs the person Danny becomes, and so it’s helpful to know the Jack Torrance that King created, not just the one Nicholson made famous.
So there it is. Another SK down. I keep telling myself to take a year off from King, to spare you my gushing fan-girl rants and tackle the more ambitious fare clogging up my shelves. But he always draws me back in. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a scrappy guy with a dubious past and a heart of gold.
TITLE: Doctor Sleep
AUTHOR: Stephen King
SORTA LIKE: The Shining meets The Stand
ALSO WROTE: Deez
FIRST LINE: “On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground.”