Friday, May 9, 2014

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep is a sequel to King's 1977 novel The Shining.  Ignoring film versions of the story, The Shining remains for me one of the best and scariest King novels.

King excels at putting good, plain people in the way of incredible horror.  He knows what scares you, and he piles it on to your delight as you read.

The Shining had an evil, haunted hotel with room after room of ghastliness.  A small family trying to survive snowed in, isolated and left to deal with everything that crawled and flew out of their own psyches and the brooding history of the Overlook hotel.

At its core is Danny, who has The Shining.  An ability to know and see things most cannot. 

In Doctor Sleep, Danny is grown up, scarred, wounded, barely sober.  A reflection of the father who tried to kill him.

Much of the novel deals with Danny's battle to remain sober in the face of new horror.  The new horror is The True Knot, a wandering group who find people, especially children, with the Shining.  They torture and devour the "steam" from those they catch to prolong their lives.

Danny makes his way to a small town in New Hampshire where he finds employment and tenuous sobriety.  Working in a hospice, he becomes known as Doctor Sleep.  When a resident is about to die, a prescient cat in residence goes to sit by them.  Danny is able to talk with the dying patient and help them relax into their permanent sleep.

Also in this town is a little girl named Abra who is filled with the Shining.  Even as a baby she was able to do things that powerfully affected her environment.  She has telekinesis, is able to view events far away and see them coming and can read minds.

As the True Knot kills a young man, Abra somehow is aware, and right there with him.  She becomes aware of the True Knot and they become aware of her, setting in motion a cross country power struggle between a young girl and Rosie The Hat, leader of The Knot.

Danny is drawn in over time by messages from Abra which appear on a blackboard in his room.

The True Knot appear as a bunch of old people traveling peacefully across America.  They look like every old codger you ever saw and are immediately dismissed from memory.  I love how King is able to make you think hmmm, those harmless old folk, probably ruthless killers.

In place of the claustrophobia that infused the Shining is the inevitability of confrontation and ultimate loss in a battle between good and evil, something that King always puts before us.  I really only like happy endings, and those are never guaranteed in a King book which keeps you reading even as you hardly dare to turn the page.

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