By Stephen King
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining but Stephen King fills in the gaps so well at the beginning that this could be easily read as a stand-alone novel. Of course, it would be better to read The Shining first but it is not totally necessary. On the other hand, If you've seen the movie and have not read the book, you should because you will get confused. ("Honey, why is that nice old black man in the book? Wasn't he killed off in the movie?)
Having said that, it's nice to see King return to Danny Torrance. You would think that a winter at the Overlook Hotel would mess you up and it did. Those addiction genes from Daddy Jack doesn't help either. Doctor Sleep goes through a period of 40 years after The Shining. Danny (now Dan) has been through a lot. He went the AA route (King's knowledge and understand of the Twelve-Step program is quite impressive) and is now an orderly in a hospice. He exhibits a special gift to soothe and guide the dying, earning the name Doctor Sleep. During the same time frame,a young girl named Abra Stone grows up with a talent that makes Dan's "shining" ability look like a pocket flashlight. Eventually they will meet up and ally together to fight off the True Knot, a group of travelers that have an appetite for children who shine.
The True Knot may be one of King's best villain, or should I say group of villains. They are a close knit clan; very old and very evil. One of the most scare-packed two line dialogue I've ever read happens near the beginning of the novel when Andi, a new recruit to the True Knot, asks their leader Rose, "Am I still human?" To which Rose replies, "Do you care?"
And this illustrates one of King's strengths that keeps him at the top of his game. Stephen King, in relation to the newer writers of horror, is a bit old fashioned. He distinctly believes in Good and Evil, complete with capital letters. In almost all of his novels, whether it's The Shining, The Stand, Misery or Doctor Sleep there is no doubt who the good guys and bad guys are. I think this is a strong reason for his popularity...aside from the fact he writes like a son-of-a-bitch. His books may be damn scary but we never lose sight of our grounding. We root for the good guys and maybe they'll win. Then again, maybe they will not but we know who they are. The author is still working on the same themes he explored in The Shining but even if the two books are 40 years apart the themes and how King deals with them remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.
Now a word about the good guy. King clearly has a lot of empathy for Dan Torrance. I suspect he identifies a lot with him and written more than a little of himself into the character. The author doesn't just focus on the supernatural aspects but write Ben into the real world; struggling with alcoholism, struggling with child abuse, and wondering about his own role in the world. He was a child in The Shining. Now he is a fully developed resident of the literary universe.
Abra Stone is no less amazing. She is one of the best child characters King has put together. Trisha McFarland from The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon can move to the second row. Abra is cute, smart and, in spite of her "superpowers", is quite vulnerable. King's early child characters always seemed a little too smart for their age. Abra seems just right whether she is 6 or 13.
Th battles between Team Dan/Abra and the True Knot are the highlights of the novel. Yet there are no slow moments in this 500+ page book. Whether it's Dan struggling with his mundane and/or supernatural demons or Abra and her family discovering her special talents, this tale stays alive. I have to place this novel in the top ten if not the top five of King's best. And if you haven't read The Shining or seen the movie and want to get the full experience, then read the book. But whatever you do, avoid that god-awful travesty of a movie.
Method Acquired: Purchased