The Doctor is in

doctor sleepDoctor Sleep  (The Shining #2) ★★★
Stephen King
Scribner, 2013

Mr. King and I (or Uncle Stevie if I may) have a loooong history that stretches back decades now. His books have become the soundtrack to my life, the novels I reach for in times of stress and grief in search of comfort and solace. Some may find that weird, considering the man’s reputation as America’s Boogeyman, but it’s never been weird to me.

No one can spin a yarn quite like this man to keep you reading well past dark and into the wee hours of the morning. No one is as good as he at locating our primal fears and anxieties and purging them in a storytelling catharsis that’s as addicting as it is healing. No one can write characters as real as the person you fall asleep next to at night, or have hated to your very core since you were a child.

Yes, Stephen King knows what scares us, because it scares him too, but he also knows how we love, how we fail, how we fall down and find the courage to pick ourselves up again. He knows what makes us human, and better than that, he knows how to write it all down on the page capturing the very essence of our humanity like a magician captures lightning in a bottle.

Can he do it every time? No. But I don’t love him any less for that fact. Does he try his very best to do it every time? You bet, with intent and integrity. King is no sell-out, and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise.

zip it…shhhh…no…talk to the hand

danny torrence

Danny Torrence, The Shining (1980)

I imagine King approached the story of Danny Torrence all grown up with a lot of respect and trepidation. The Shining is one of King’s most memorable novels, with an iconic film adaptation that in some ways has even eclipsed the book itself. As a reader I approached this sequel with trepidations of my own. Even though you do your best to stranglehold your galloping expectations, you can’t help but get excited and to imagine how it’s all going to come together, what it’s going to feel like.

This is a good book. Once you start it, like so many of King’s best works, you will want to (have to) finish it. But it isn’t The Shining and anyone expecting a full frontal assault horror novel on par with that classic will be sorely disappointed. In a lot of ways Doctor Sleep is a completely different book altogether, because it’s written by a completely different man who has lived a lot of life and learned a lot of things. It’s probably not even fair to compare the two, but it’s inevitable. A sequel is a sequel.

As a sequel it does succeed brilliantly in one important aspect, and that is answering the question: “hey, whatever happened to the kid in The Shining?” Dan Torrence carries some heavy burdens which have derailed his life in more ways than one. Blocking out his traumatic childhood has doomed him to repeat history — at least that of his father and Jack Torrence’s black temper and unquenchable thirst for booze. Dan is an alcoholic, selfish and unscrupulous, and facing his rock-bottom. Anyone who knows anything about King’s personal life, knows he is a recovering alcoholic. So who better to write a story about a life lost to booze and the battle to get healthy “one day at a time”.

Dan’s life, what it was, what it becomes, is a great part of this novel, and I loved reading about it. Then there’s the other part — a band of psychic vampires traveling the dusty back roads of America by RV calling themselves the True Knot. These are interesting, hideous creatures with a colorful history. On the King villain scale however, we’ve encountered way worse, and way more memorable.

Ditto Abra. As a child heroine facing down the supernatural dark King has equipped her with some pretty mighty powers. She is in fact, King’s most powerful, making little Danny Torrence, Carrie White, Charlie McGee, and Johnny Smith combined look like a dim bulb on a Christmas tree. Becky describes it best in her review this way:

Things were just so easy for her, since she was so powerful in the shining, and on top of that, she had a support system – two parents, Danny, Billy, and John. And she was more than twice Danny’s age when he had to fight for his life, alone. So I just didn’t really feel all that concerned about her, as unfair as it may be. I feel like King went easy on her.

Abra surpasses super-human into superhero range. And while I feared for those around her, I never ever feared for her.

There is a lot to enjoy here, but for me there is an emotional depth missing that I’ve come to crave with King’s books and the characters he creates. I wanted to live in this story, and think about it constantly, and I did neither. I enjoyed it for the adventure it was, and will have no problems recommending it, but it won’t live on and linger in the mind the way so many of his other books have for me.

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