Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Scribner, September 24, 2013 (Horror)
My Rating: Outstanding Adventure
I’ve been drifting through Doctor Sleep for a couple of weeks now and just finished it in time for Halloween; fitting, I think.
While this one did take me awhile to get through, it was not because I didn’t enjoy it. Stephen King is just one of those authors that I get engrossed in, set down and then don’t return to it for awhile. But, as soon I start back up, I’m sucked in. This was the case with Doctor Sleep. I would set it down, but would finish big chunks at a time.
As most people are aware (unless you’ve been living in a cave) Doctor Sleep is the sequel to King’s 1980 The Shining. In Doctor Sleep we return to little Danny Torrence who is all grown up and still trying to deal with his shining abilities. We are immediately aware that Dan’s not been so successful at dealing with the shining, in fact, he’s taken the same path as his father and has turned to alcohol to deal with the strange visions he experiences. Because of his dependence on alcohol, Dan’s done some not-so-good things over the years, and when he finally hits rock bottom in a small town, he vows to get sober with AA. Dan ends up settling in this small town and eventually starts working in a hospice where he helps the residents cross over; hence the nickname, ‘Doctor Sleep.’ Over the years he realizes that there’s a young girl, Abra, that also has the shining, and she periodically gets into contact with him. For the most part, Dan doesn’t really think too much about Abra, but understands that she’s significantly more powerful than he is. However, when a sinister group, The True Knot, set their sights on Abra, Dan has to make a decision and to contact Abra and her family. The True want Abra for her “steam” or psychic talents, which they can “consume” if they kill her and inhale her essence. They have been doing this to kings for a long time, and it’s given them longevity; however, they don’t count on Abra having help to defend herself.
There was a lot of stuff going on in Doctor Sleep and I really don’t think I can completely capture it in a short review. What I really liked was the contrast between the unnatural family of The True, and Dan and Abra’s makeshift family. On one hand, it’s very clear who the bad guys are. The True are killing kids and stealing their essences. That’s obviously a villainous thing to do. But what threw me off balance is the fact that The True are a family and they care about one another. We see their side of the story, and while it’s completely twisted, they still have those qualities that most families have. It was bizarre at times to see the villains thinking in a family-oriented way rather than being completely vilified.
Now for those who consider King merely a horror writer, I think you should reconsider. First of all, Doctor Sleep isn’t particularly scary. I personally found it sinister with The True’s creepy caravan of kidnappers, traveling across America in their RVs and murdering children. It was sinister because The True were hiding in non-threatening bodies as bad people so often do. To me, the characterization of The True as RV-goers was the real creepy part of the novel. Although, there were some cringe-worthy moments while I was reading. Anytime that Dan knew a person would die, flies would appear on that person’s face. There’s something about the way this is described that makes my skin crawl. So, if you’re worried about being scared, I wouldn’t say this book is “scary,” but it does have it elements of creepiness.
Overall, I thought this was an exceptional book and showcased a lot of elements that I like best about Stephen King. And make no mistake, King is a good writer – after all, Margaret Atwood says so.
My Favourite Stephen King Books (excluding The Shining, of course):