Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Courtesy of Stephen King’s website.

Courtesy of Stephen King’s website.

Even the most voracious reader would find the task of reading the complete works of Stephen King daunting at best. The native New England author, who published his first novel in 1973, isn’t helping the difficulty of the task much either. Released September of last year, Doctor Sleep adds to the ever growing list of novels to have escaped the confines of King’s mind. Interestingly enough, the subject matter of Doctor Sleep picks up the threads of a certain story King wrote way back in 1977 about a certain family in a haunted Colorado hotel. Yes, Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the Shining, continuing the story of Danny Torrance, the young boy with the eponymous power of the shining. He doesn’t stay young for very long, though. After learning one last trick from Dick Halloran, one of the other survivors of the Overlook Hotel, the stories opening chapters follow Dan’s descent into alcoholism, following his father’s ignominious footsteps.

The not-so-young Dan eventually takes root in a small New Hampshire town where he finds work, friends, and a 12 steps program that reigns in his rampant alcoholism. While Dan finds use for his special talents in his new job at the town’s hospice building, other threads begin winding their way into the plot. On the night of August 30th, 2001, a young couple’s child wakes screaming in the night and won’t quiet, despite the fact nothing seems wrong with her. Far across the country a sinister group travels the highways, looking like innocent RV tourists to all outsiders.

Though despite having a childhood beleaguered by strange events centering around herself, the young baby grows into the well-adjusted 10-year-old Abra Stone, though she is far from being an average girl. Abra has the shining, just like Dan, but hers is even brighter and more powerful than the now elder Torrance. Dan, however, is not the only one aware of Abra’s power.

They call themselves the True Knot, and like any good villain in a King novel they are evil to the core. Blending in to American society with the image of a small clan of nomadic RV-people, the True Knot’s true purpose is much more sinister than sight-seeing and campsites. They are quasi-immortal, extending their own lives and youth by feeding upon, “steam,” the life essence carried within people that possess the shining, and they definitely don’t ask nicely for it.

Events begin to get complicated when Abra accidentally finds herself spying upon the True’s illicit activities from hundreds of miles away. In her dreams she sees the True Knot torture a young boy, a baseball player who always seems to know where the ball is going to be thanks to his small shining, and the True notices that someone is watching. The following game of psychic cat and mouse reveals the True Knot’s existence and motives to Abra and Dan, but it also reveals Abra’s immense power to the True Knot, who have found themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel. Racing against each other, the True find themselves facing a formidable foe while Abra feels the pressure of being hunted by the vampiric True Knot in the book’s fast-paced page turner of a final act.

Overall the book stands as another good addition to Stephen King’s ever-growing bibliography. Fans of the Shining will enjoy picking the story of Dan Torrance back up and exploring the aftereffects the Overlook had on his life. Callbacks to the Shining and sneaky references to King’s other works run throughout the novel, so longtime fans will get a kick out of catching the connections. The novel, however, is not impenetrable to the outsider. While perhaps not an ideal starting point for those looking to dive into the dark worlds of King, Doctor Sleep has enough exposition that a perceptive reader could jump in cold, though reading the Shining first will help prevent confusion about some elements of the story. For the Constant Reader and new fans of King alike, Doctor Sleep is another work from the Maine madman that just might keep you up at night.