(And a rant about the current price of literature. By me.)
If I had one problem with Doctor Sleep, it’s that the book has a lot of necessary backstory. Now before you evicerate me for being a godless King-hating heathen, let me explain.
Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.
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 12-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. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon
Necessary warnings regarding Doctor Sleep
Because this is a sequel, this review may contain spoilers for the end of The Shining. The novel-by-Stephen-King version. The Kubrick movie is notably different.
Content Warning: Doctor Sleep deals with themes of alcoholism and addiction, child abuse, child sexual abuse, rape, murder (all ages) and the occult. The contents of the book contain some racial slurs. I may have missed something; it’s been a while since I finished the book.
Doctor Sleep: The Fanfic We Wanted?
The story in Doctor Sleep takes place after The Shining. Well after The Shining. That isn’t where the book starts. The novel opens with a rather lengthy section detailing what happened to Danny and Wendy Torrance when they escaped The Overlook Hotel with Dick Halloran.
Once in relative safety, Wendy gets jobs to support her little family. Dick Halloran continues his association as a kind of informative grandparent, educating Danny on how to handle his psychic gifts. There’s a ton of backstory here, and it parses just like King finished re-reading The Shining, sat down to write, and just continued where he left off. Don’t get me wrong – that’s talent. It’s also a lot to wade through.
Steve King and Joe Hill hang a lampshade on their familial relationship via writing.
There’s a notable moment in the middle of this ramble that, in retrospect, is an Easter egg of sorts. Halloran is relating the story of his life to Danny, and talks about life with a sexually abusive grandparent.
“Sometimes he said that he knew a bad man named Charlie Manx, and if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d call Charlie Manx on the long-distance and he’d come in his fancy car and take me away to a place for bad children.”Dick Halloran, Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
I hadn’t read NOS4A2 by Joe Hill yet, but that’s a direct reference to the villain of Hill’s novel. It can thus be safely assumed that NOS4A2 and Doctor Sleep (and by extension, The Shining) are all located in the same universe. I cackled with glee when I discovered Stephen King easter eggs in Hill’s work, so this doesn’t surprise me. NOS4A2 was released in April 2013, and Doctor Sleep came out in September of the same year.
But I think you see what I mean. If it were anyone other than King doing the writing, it would come across as The Shining fanfic. It’s a novella’s-worth of him paying fan service, giving the full story of what happened after The Shining.
He’s Stephen Fucking King. He can do that.
Back to the story. Focus.
We’re then introduced to Rose The Hat and the True Knot, a tribe of PanAmerican nomads living in a fleet of recreational vehicles. The True are a new kind of vampire, living off a substance they call ‘steam’, the distilled essence of a child who shines. We join them as they add a new member to their ranks, a 32-year-old woman with a shine of her own. It’s explained that steam has a shelf life, comparing the essence of an adult’s shine to a tough steak. Not to worry, though – they can store the steam they harvest in canisters for later use.
And then we meet up with Dan Torrance again. It’s the 90’s, Bill Clinton is president, and Danny has hit rock bottom. He’s discovered, over the years since we left him, that booze and drugs dull the effects of his shine. On this morning, he’s woken up after a cocaine and booze-filled night with a young bar star. He’s filching a few bucks from her wallet when he meets up with her baby son, a little boy with bruises on his arm from the toxic adults the child is dependant on.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Between the aftereffects of the night before and the depravity of stealing money from a single mother living off food stamps with her child, Danny realizes he has to clean up. He does a halfhearted detox and drifts around the eastern seaboard, taking nursing-home jobs as an orderly and sabotaging his own sobriety. He’s still hearing voices. Sometimes it’s his mother or father. Sometimes it’s memories of hitting that rock-bottom state. Then there’s a new voice that cuts in, and starts telling him that he doesn’t have to be this person anymore.
Finally, he’s sitting in a bus that’s waiting to take on new passengers and Tony (remember Tony from The Shining?) speaks up, telling him he’s found where he needs to be. Soon Dan is interviewing for temporary work with the township and reliving aspects of his father’s interview experience at the start of The Shining.
Folks, we’re on page 85 and the story is just getting started.
And now we detour into a little rant about the rising cost of books…
I had mixed feelings reading Doctor Sleep. For starters, I was pissed off at the rising cost of hardcovers, and how the price of pixels (eBooks) weren’t much better. I still have some pretty strong feelings about this. As much as I, myself, would like to grow a career as a writer, some of publishing’s business decisions – like the limiting of library books – really boggles me. Instead of looking at the library as the marketing tool it is, it’s seen as a rival for business. I’m sorry, but piracy is publishing’s competition for sales. Libraries do their best to promote current books and back catalogue while ensuring the literacy of the population by availability of adequate stock.
(yes, when I get angry, I immediately start using multisyllabic words).
If publishing companies are so worried about eBooks cutting into their sales, how about this instead? Turn paper books into a limited edition run and bring down the price of ebooks by a significant margin? Boost your sales by making the product more available, and save a few trees at the same time. I guarantee you, you will increase your profit margin. Why?
Because people like me, who are generally unwilling to buy an ebook for the price of a $25 – $35 hardcover, will buy the shit out of your goddamned mass market book if it’s priced below $10.
I’d say I have no words, but it’s obvious that’s a lie.
I kvetched about the price of this book so much that not only did my spouse buy a copy for me for Yule…so did my parents. On sale. At Costco. Oh yes, publishing. You win this time. But you didn’t get the full dollar amount. Muah-ha-ha!
But I digress.
I re-read The Shining. Then I started in on Doctor Sleep. I told myself I was going to savour this read. I got to that 87-page mark, and everything fell apart. Things became busy at work, I put the book down, and when I picked it back up again, I was totally lost. Who’s this kid named Abra? The heck?
Because you see, Dear Reader, we get the Shining fanfic we were looking for, only to then start the actual story, which is that there is a little girl with all of Danny’s gifts and more. She even has a more stable family. And because she’s so powerful, she talks to Dan the way he talked with Tony.
If anything, it probably helps him more than anything else.
Because she’s a child and a very powerful one at that, the True Knot come sniffing after her. Chaos ensues.
And they all end up at the Overlook Hotel. You knew that was coming.
Actually, they end up at the Overlook site because, well, it blew up in the novel. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. I did warn you.
For all my bitching and complaining, I did enjoy the story. I think I raved (and ranted. Let’s be honest) about it to my friends for a good month afterward. I think that if you want to give it a try, remember that the book has detours. It shifts gears from Stephen King of the 70’s to the more moderate Stephen King of the 2000’s. The man has had at least thirty years to overcome his own addictions and be able to talk about the experience the best way he can: Through literature.
…and like the energizer rabbit she keeps going…and going…
And yes, I do realize that it sounds hypocritical of me, a person who reviews books, to suggest we start limiting the amount of hardcovers that are available. After all, pretty books make the Instagram go around, right? Well…maybe it would give an impetus to make better and less expensive eBook readers? Something a little more photogenic?
As much as I would love to be promoting only first-run books, I just wrote a review (quality notwithstanding) of a book that’s been out since 2013. It’s my own FOMO that kept me from waiting for the (increasingly also more expensive, imagine that) paperback.
Come on, folks. With all the OTHER industries attempting quasi-destructive restructuring, maybe this is something that needs to be explored?
TL;DR Stephen King continues the story of The Shining in Doctor Sleep. We follow Danny Torrance, now an adult, as he attempts to break the cycle of addiction to help a young child with powers greater than his own.
Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2) by Stephen King
Published by Scribner
Genres: Horror, Fantasy
Amazon | Kobo
This post contains an affiliate link (to Amazon) you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.