Book Review: Doctor Sleep (Kindle Edition)

Posted: December 8, 2013 in Books


Dan Torrence has hit rock bottom.  He is an alcoholic and a drug user, and he has spent a forgettable night with a girl named Deenie drinking and snorting coke.  Now he is in a cheap motel bathroom puking whatever he had for dinner last night.  He craves the rest of that coke, but is interrupted by Deenie’s kid who thinks the cocaine is candy.  He gets the cocaine away from the kid, and steals Deenie’s money, because he’s flat broke, and so begins Dan Torrance’s multi-state multi decade battle with sobriety.   Dan gets jobs around the country, mostly as an orderly, but he can’t hold on to the jobs, because he can’t stay on the wagon long enough.

Dan’s got good reason to have substance abuse issues, his father Jack was an alcoholic, who tried to kill Dan and his mother Wendy with a roque mallet when Jack was caretaker at the Overlook hotel, when Dan was a young boy.  Dan knew it wasn’t just the booze that made Jack violent, Dan knew there were evil spirits in the Overlook, spirits that attacked Jack when he was weak and drove him to kill.  Dan knew this because he had the shining, a sort of telepathy, that allowed him to communicate with others who had this power.  Dan also saw spirits malevolent and benevolent, who had not yet found their final resting place.  He drank in an attempt to bury these spirits and he finally kept the last one in a lockbox in his mind, with the help of his friend Dick Halloran.

Dan’s battle with substance abuse began in earnest with a stop in Frazier New Hampshire, where he meets Billy Freeman, gets a job at the Helen Rivington hospice.  He also joins AA, as a condition of his employment.  It is at one of these AA meetings where Dan meets Abra Stone and they communicate telepathically, Abra is little more than a child when they first communicate, but they keep up the communication throughout the years, and create and maintain a bond.  Dick Halloran had said that Dan would be a mentor one day and so he begins to mentor Abra.

Abra is not only telepathic, she has telekinesis, the ability to move objects, and her shining is much stronger than Dan’s ever was, but she has to learn to control it, and not be afraid of it, and not be judged a freak because of her abilities.  That’s where Dan comes in.  At the same time, in the hospice Dan is so successful in leading the dying patients to their final resting place, he earns the nickname Dr. Sleep.

There is another group interested in Abra, a far more malevolent group called the True Knot.  They are vampires, who don’t suck blood, they suck the essence out of young kids, they call it steam, and they especially want to suck the steam out of kids with the shining, because their steam is more powerful and can sustain the True Knot for a long time.  And Abra’s steam can sustain the True Knot for decades.  Rose The Hat, the leader of these wandering gypsies and her old man The Crow, are out to get their hands on Abra and take her steam, can Dan and Billy and Abra’s  parents stop Rose and Crow and the rest of the True Knot, before they kill Abra and take her steam?  Will Abra use her still growing power to destroy the True Knot?

I liked Doctor Sleep.  It is a worthy sequel to The Shining.  I read the Shining about 30 years ago, and was bowled over by it, I must say that the Shining is my favorite Stephen King book.  I must also say that I stopped reading Stephen King after Pet Cemetery, because they all started to sound alike to me.  But I heard that King was writing a sequel to the Shining, and immediately my curiosity was piqued.  Reading this book was like slipping into a pair of comfortable old shoes.  What I liked immediately was the character of Dan Torrance, he had an epic struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, and the solution of the problem wasn’t a quick fix or a vision that Dan had, the solution was slow and painful and arduous. He’d stay sober and then fall off the wagon, and even when he joined AA, the reader is reminded how much a struggle sobriety is.  That felt real to me and I admire King for writing a man character with that much depth.  The other characters were not as well drawn, Rose was just evil personified with a top hat, a little backstory on Rose would have been nice. How did she turn?  Who turned her and why? Abra was young and beautiful with a lot of pep and spunk.  King has a tendency to make his female heroines blonde and perky and perfect, and Abra is no exception.  The key to good writing is to give your characters a flaw, whereas Dan was a very flawed character, Abra was the opposite. Too perfect.

Here’s something that’s bothersome about King, he makes great literary references throughout the book, like Abra, the conflicted female character in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, he quotes Shakespeare more than once, but then he puts product placement in the book.  If you think product placement is annoying in a movie try reading a brand name in a book.  It’s offputting, and there’s always been a battle between commercialism and creativity with King, and he should leave the commercialism behind, and just concentrate on story ad characters.

Everyone worth their salt takes a shot at re-writing the vampire mythology, if they are part of the horror genre.  The original mythology was written of course by Bram Stoker.  Dracula was evil and so he couldn’t face the things that were Godly, the sunlight holy water, the cross. Anne Rice rewrote that script a little, taking out the Christian iconography, making the vampires pre-Christian, but still making them blood sucking creatures of the night.  True Blood pretty much sticks to the Dracula script with a Southern twist and of course there are the teen-angst vampires of Twilight. King stays to the Stoker themes in Salem’s Lot, but here in Dr. Sleep he does a complete re-write, they don’t suck blood, they suck steam, they walk around in the sunlight, they don’t care about crosses, but then King turns around and gives them vulnerabilities that makes me question their viability as a species.  How could the True Knot last for hundreds of years?  I really don’t know.  Doctor Sleep is a mix of the Shining, Carrie and The Stand, more so than Salem’s Lot. The ending was predictable, but there was a little flourish at the end that I really enjoyed and that capped the book nicely.  Sometimes it’s not the destination, but the journey, and this was a journey worth taking.

Dr. Sleep.  Will keep you awake…reading.


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