Author: Stephen King
Published: September 2013 by Scribner, 544 pages
First Line: ”On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground.”
Genre/Rating: Horror; 5/5 women wearing a rakishly-tilted top hat with one long tusk where her teeth should be peering back at you when you glance out of your second-floor window
Recommended if you like: Stephen King, Joe Hill, The Shining (the book more so than the Kubrick movie), The Dark Tower series, books about “whatever happened to…”, books where there are both demons under the bed and the more-relatable demons that live in all of our heads
Review: I’ve been waiting for this one for a VERY long time. Fun fact: I preordered this as soon as it became available – for my Kindle, because, as previously mentioned, my house has become overloaded with paper books. I apparently FORGOT I did this, and at some other point, ALSO ordered the hardcover (…why?) so when it was released Amazon gleefully sent me all the emails. “Your book has been shipped!” “Your ebook has been delivered!” DAMMIT AMAZON. (Luckily, I knew someone who wanted the book, so was able to sell it to her. Score for both of us!)
The Shining is one of my favorite King novels. The haunted house aspect; the claustrophobia of the snowstorm; the little boy, who sees the truth behind the curled firehose, the clock on the mantel, the hedge maze. The fear of the mundane; the fear of your own father, if that’s who he truly still is.
In Doctor Sleep, we meet an adult Danny Torrance, who has become exactly what we all fear most, and perhaps what Danny (now Dan, of course) should fear more than any of us: his father. He drinks to escape; escape the demons from his past, the voices in his head, the power he’s had since he was a child. Until the day he arrives in a small town on the east coast and realizes he can’t do it anymore; that either he stops, or he dies. In this town, Dan finds his calling: without the alcohol, he can use the shining for good. He finds work in a hospice and he helps people find peace at the end of their lives (the clearing at the end of the path, if you will. Say true.)
Not far from Dan’s town, a young girl named Abra is born. Remember how Dick Hallorann told Danny he had a pistol in his head? Abra has a damn nuclear bomb, yo. And if you think Dan and Abra’s paths aren’t going to cross…well, I can’t help you. Sorry.
Then there are the True Knot, a traveling group of…well, psychic vampires, I suppose. They’re older than you can imagine, and they feed on children like Danny was, and like Abra is. And once Abra’s on their radar – well, if all of the other children they’ve taken are a meal, Abra’s a buffet. How can they not go after her?
Amy. AMY. I can hear you right now. NO I TOTALLY CAN. I don’t CARE about the plot. I can get the plot from AMAZON. Was it GOOD, is what I want to know. Should I READ it? Should I bump it up on my MASSIVE to-be-read list?
You sure as hell should. But with this caveat:
Only if you read, and loved, The Shining. (The movie’s different enough that you’d understand the plot, but miss some of the best bits. I’m not bagging on the movie; unlike King, I love the movie. But I realize the movie and the book are two very different beasties.)
It would also behoove you to read “The Waste Land” (well, you should read it anyway, it’s ONLY written by one of my favorite poets EVER), Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, and The Dark Tower series. They’re not required, but you’ll be missing out on references if you don’t. (Plus they’re all amazing.)
There are some triggery issues: child abuse, rape, and substance abuse. I read The Shining while in my own all-work-and-no-play-makes-Amy-a-party-girl phase, and wasn’t (ironically) aware that Jack’s future was probably mine, if I didn’t put down the bottle. Reading Dan’s struggle with the same problem was hard for me (VERY hard) and at first, I couldn’t understand why – then I realized, well. I’d grown up alongside Dan, hadn’t I? I’d gone through the same struggle. I’d looked at the bottle with both desire and hatred. I’d been in Dan’s shoes. And watching someone else do it – well, I wasn’t the same girl who’d read about Jack, all those years ago. I was an adult who’d escaped Jack’s fate. And that feeling was both empowering and deeply frightening.
The book itself, though? It’s sublime. I fell in love with adult Dan. I fell even MORE in love with brave, fiery little Abra. I actually felt a strange sort of empathy for the True Knot, and I don’t even know that I was SUPPOSED to feel that – that’s the power of King’s writing. Everyone’s so fully drawn that you see them as human beings, all their scars and heart and missteps, and you feel for them, whether or not you should. There were enough references to King works I felt as if I was home again; there were enough new characters and situations it was like a whole new world. There were beautiful lines and bravery and there was loss and heartbreak; there was a point I had to put the book down because I couldn’t see through my tears. There was redemption and there was triumph. And you know how sometimes King’s endings are weak?
Nope. Not here. You get a good book all the way to the very last word. No letdown of an ending. No disappointment in the last act.
Go. Go lose yourself in Dan. Go meet Abra and the True Knot and take a road trip and meet some old friends. Just don’t let them into your head; once they’re there, that’s when they’ve got you. And they may not let you go.