Guys, Doctor Sleep was awesome. I mean, I knew it would be, but I was also afraid a little because this is the first true sequel (other than the Dark Tower series, I suppose) that Stephen King has ever written, and I was worried it might spoil the stand-alone-ness of The Shining, or even Doctor Sleep itself. Luckily, it did neither of those.
Doctor Sleep’s introduction picks up a mere 3 years after The Shining ends; the lady from the tub in room 217 has found Danny even though they live thousands of miles away from the site of the Overlook. Dick Hallorann, after a panicked call from Wendy Torrance, comes to visit Danny and teaches him how to lock the bad spirits away in his mind so that they can’t get to him anymore.
After this, we see brief flashes of Danny’s (now Dan’s) life as an alcoholic. Though he swore to never follow in his father’s footsteps, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, as the saying goes—and Dan spends at least a decade waking intermittently from alcoholic stupors to find himself broke, homeless, jobless, or all three. Finally, he gets off a bus in the tiny town of Fraizer, New Hampshire, determined to start a new life. There, he joins AA and eventually gets a job as an orderly in a hospice.
Soon after he moves into the upstairs room of the hospice, he begins to occasionally feel as though someone is reaching out to him in the way that Dick Hallorann used to, except this person isn’t speaking—they’re just “there” somehow. As the years go by, the telepathic link between him and this other person—a girl a few towns over named Abra—grows stronger.
Meanwhile, a band of vampires that calls themselves The True Knot travels the country in a caravan of campers and motorhomes. They survive on “steam,” which they steal from children with the shining, children like Dan and Abra, by killing them slowly and torturously. Abra’s shining is much stronger than any the True Knot has ever come across, and they want her badly—and now Dan must help save Abra from Rose the Hat, the terrifying leader of the True Knot.
To be 100% honest, as soon as I saw the word “vampires” in the description of this book, I was minorly turned off. I wasn’t crazy about ‘Salem’s Lot (I know, I know) and have just never really been into the whole vampires thing. But I couldn’t NOT read this, especially considering how much I loved The Shining, and I’m so glad I didn’t just write it off as another vampire novel. It was a great novel that could technically stand on its own, but it does refer to the Overlook and the happenings there enough that it’s certainly helpful to have read The Shining. My recommendation would definitely be to read The Shining first because everything will make more sense. (Plus, it’s just an awesome book.)
As usual, Stephen King is a genius at character creation. I particularly loved Billy Freeman, the first man Dan meets in Frazier and King’s prototypical gruff-old-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold. I also loved Abra’s great grandmother, Concetta, and wish she had been more of an active character. Abra was only minorly unbelievable as a thirteen-year-old (if you had just shown me a sample of her dialogue I might have said 15-16 instead), but gosh did I love her spunk. Rose the Hat was sufficiently terrifying but also a little tragic, in her own way—at the core of it, she’s fighting to keep her family alive, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that she’s murdering children to do so. It’s not like you’re tempted to root for her as a reader, or anything, but I don’t think she’s one-dimensionally evil.
And then, of course, there’s Dan. It was so hard to see this little kid that I’ve seen escape the Overlook a zillion times fall on such mundane life difficulties as an adult. That’s not to discount alcoholism or the families it destroys, not at all—but at the end of The Shining I always liked to think that Danny grew up to be perfectly well-adjusted and successful, like the kids in It (although that of course was due to a whole other set of supernatural issues). It hurt more than a little to see this amazingly strong little kid grow up to be an alcoholic drifter who couldn’t hold down a job. Even though it only takes 50-60 pages until Dan finally joins AA, and I knew it was going to happen thanks to the book blurb…what a relief!!
As far as the main plot goes, I don’t want to give any more away than I already have, but it was definitely up to King’s usual standards of suspense and thrill. I will say that, unlike some of his other recent books (Cell, I’m looking at you), Doctor Sleep did actually have a legitimately satisfying conclusion and an epilogue that tied up some loose ends. I was able to close the book and walk away, which is difficult to do when books are open-ended.
One thing I have to mention that really bothered me (bothered me that it had to be written in the first place, that is) is that in the afterword, King writes that the novel The Shining, not the film, is the “true history” of the Torrance family. Um, duh? It’s no secret that King abhors the Kubrick movie—it’s why he made the 1991 miniseries, which is awesome, btw—but for that to even be necessary to write makes me sad.
All in all, if you are a fan of King and haven’t yet bought and read this book, you should do so immediately.
- Doctor Sleep (gilmiller.wordpress.com)
- Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (annieburtonwrites.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Sleep – A rare (and awesome) Stephen King sequel (aelizabethwest.wordpress.com)
- Improving on The Shining: Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep (tor.com)