Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

This edition: Hardcover

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Published: September 24th 2013

My rating: 5/5

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.

“Dear Constant Reader…”

Those three words are like my magic ones. They take me back, and while I can safely say that being a teenager was not my happiest state of being, books always made it a little better. None more so than the ones written by Stephen King. (Yes, this is going to be that kind of review…)

I have to admit, when I heard that King had written a sequel to one of my all-time favourite books, The Shining, I was dubious. Curious, most certainly, because who wouldn’t be – and yet, I wasn’t sure. Blame that dreaded old curse of Sequel-itis, but I didn’t immediately leap to the front of the pre-order line. The Shining was one of my untouchable fond memories, and I was reluctant to let it be tarnished…

…I need not have worried. 

I haven’t liked them all, to be honest, but when I enjoy a Stephen King book, I really freaking enjoy it. I can laugh, cry, cringe, get horribly creeped out … It gives me everything that a good book should, and usually with a merciless side order of goosebumps for good measure. Doctor Sleep is no exception. The weight of so many years of experience with this kind of thing is clearly on King’s side, here. This book was unputdownable. My mother actually had to ask if I was okay when I finally closed it. That is how well done it was, and this is exactly how it should be. 

It had been a while since I read one of King’s books, or even reread one. Yet, from the moment I read those first three words above, it was as though I’d never gone away. I grinned to myself, and it began.

This is a horror story, yes, but more than this, it’s a story about human nature. As a boy, Danny Torrance might have told himself he’d never drink, never become violent, never be like his father. As an adult, we get to see just how difficult that promise was to keep. Dan is burdened with something he can never get rid of, and his efforts lead him down some dark paths before he manages to turn himself around. Shining aside, it’s every addict’s tale, simply told, but it’s told so powerfully that I couldn’t help being pulled along, sucked in and left feeling utterly sympathetic. Doubly so because, along the way, Dan gains a better understanding of what his father might have gone through. Dan is a good person at heart, but there emerges a very dark side in him, one that he has to learn how to handle the way he has to learn to handle his Shining. His alcohol abuse and his recovery efforts highlight it all rather painfully, and of course it all seems very familiar…

It’s that story of human nature, of how ‘good and evil’ are never simple black and white concepts, that makes Doctor Sleep so compelling. And it isn’t only Dan who demonstrates it. From the True Knot and their increasingly desperate need to keep on their path, seeking and stealing ‘steam’ to stay alive, to the young Abra Stone herself – nothing that happens to us leaves us untouched, and Abra’s wildly powerful Shining shapes who she is and who she might become in ways that deliver all of those goosebumps I always get from King’s best work. I never stopped cheering her on, but there were definitely moments where I worried for her, and not just because of anything the True Knot did to her. The shades of Carrie were present enough to help that worry along, and it all comes together into something that I still think about with undeniable awe. Stephen King may write horror, but so very often there is nothing more potentially horrific than human nature. He may not be the only writer in the world to understand this, but for me at least, very few are his equal when it comes to nailing it down as well as he does here.

At their root, his stories are not complicated. Sometimes they’re not even all that dramatic. But the people involved in them? This is where the word “masterful” applies. I still have a hard time coming up with any other writer who meets that standard. Maybe that’s my not-so-inner fangirl talking, but I call ’em like I see ’em. And with King, I’m calling ’em with the freaking lights on, thank you very much.

I think I’ve praised and rambled enough to make my point. Be assured, you Constant Readers, you don’t want to miss this one.

This book was read as part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII Challenge over at Stainless Steel Droppings. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *