A shining sequel, Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’ is an entertaining thriller.Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It takes a little while for “Doctor Sleep,” the new novel by eternally best-selling author Stephen King, to stop worrying about being a sequel to “The Shining” and start telling its own story. When it does, it begins to summon up its own set of characters, events and terrifying images that will remain in the mind long after reading — those moments that King has specialized in during a long career as the world’s most popular horror novelist.
Then, just when you thought you had this new story figured out, callbacks to the original classic hit hard and heavy. Instead of feeling forced, though, these moments amplify the emotion of everything that happens and give the reader a sense of closure, like healing a wound that somehow has remained open for 30 years. “Doctor Sleep” can never quite escape from the shadow of its original. So instead, King embraces it, making this sequel a story that is both its own part and of a larger piece.
The book could also be seen in some way as King trying to reclaim the story of Danny Torrance and his family’s horrific experiences at the Overlook Hotel from the clutches of pop culture influences that pulled it in a different direction. Nowadays, when people think of “The Shining,” they tend to remember the terrifying Stanley Kubrick film starring Jack Nicholson which has long since become a horror classic, but deviated from King’s original in numerous ways. King has made his befuddlement toward Kubrick’s film plain, and by drawing attention back to the original novel (which “Doctor Sleep” follows in continuity), perhaps he sees his chance to put his stamp back on one of his most famous stories.
The best idea in “Doctor Sleep” lies in its decision to focus on a familiar character — Daniel, the little boy with the power of a unique form of telepathy — and to put him in a wholly new circumstance, rather than rehashing the events of the first book. As time has passed between “The Shining” and present day, so too has time passed for Daniel, who has grown into a troubled man as the novel opens, his father’s legacy of alcoholism having sadly been passed to his son.
As his father did before him, Daniel has reasons to justify his drinking — the psychological power of his “shining” has remained with him, and that level of supernatural empathy can be too much for one to bear. But as Daniel wanders around the country, an aimless soul with no desire to belong anywhere, it becomes clear that his gifts are merely an excuse — the kind of justification any addict finds to keep his lifestyle intact.
It is through Daniel’s struggle with addiction that the book finds its greatest strength. He begins to establish a new life through the support of friends, an AA group, and a new job as a specialized caregiver at a hospice. There, by helping patients in their final moments, using his powers to comfort and guide them, he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep.” But King makes it clear that the temptation toward the bottle that destroyed his father — and the Overlook Hotel — remains at all times, adding remarkable tension to
the question of whether Daniel can actually remain sober, and making the conflicts that follow into a larger metaphor.
King has always had a knack for crafting unforgettable villains, and the True Knot falls right into his wheelhouse. Led by a top-hat clad villainess named Rose, the group roams the country in RVs, a highway-bound plague who look upon those living a normal life as “rubes.” They’ve lived unseen for decades — centuries, perhaps — and have no moral qualms with murdering if it means they continue to live. An early scene depicting the final moments of one of the True’s young victims is particularly disturbing.
In the end, as Daniel tries to help a 12-year-old girl named Abra repel the True’s horrific plans, “Doctor Sleep” becomes a gripping and entertaining read in its own right. It is not the equal of “The Shining,” but how many stories are? However, as a tale of a young girl becoming a powerful woman, a troubled man fighting against his demons and the fearsome villains who are determined to destroy them both, the book carves out its own niche as a worthwhile read. King found there was indeed a reason to revisit the tale of Daniel Torrance in adulthood, and I suspect most readers will heartily agree.