It’s been many many years since I last read a Stephen King novel. I read a few of the classic stories (Carrie, Salem’s Lot, the Shining, the Stand, IT, the Tommyknockers) back in the 80s but gave up on it because of the similarity in tone between one story and the next.. when you read a King novel, you know it’s going to have lots of pop culture references, corny dialogue and tons of internal monologuing. It just got stale. So with some mild curiosity I decided to pick up two books– Under the Dome (from the library, not cracked open yet) and the sequel to The Shining, the recently released novel, Doctor Sleep. I have been wanting to crack open a King novel for a while now, just to see if his style has evolved from the “fiction factory” in the 80s/early 90s. Has fatherhood (to successful horror writer in his own right, Joe Hill) and King’s much publicized 1999 near fatal accident taken something away from him? Perhaps, but perhaps it’s added something back. There’s a maturity there, now, and a sense of mortality to King’s writing that truly makes Doctor Sleep one of his best novels to date. Don’t get me wrong, the go-to tropes of a King novel are still present: the mordant sense of humor, the pop culture references which give them a time-piece quality, the internal dialogues, and that trademark utter banality of evil.
In Doctor Sleep, the protagonist of The Shining, Danny Torrence has grown up to an adult– a very flawed adult indeed, following his father into alcoholism and self destruction, a place that he somewhat successfully digs his way out of with a lot of help from AA. Danny wanders a bit, then settles down in a town to become a caregiver at a hospice (as the eponymous “Dr. Sleep” who helps dying patients make the transition to the other side). Danny feels obliged to help another child with the shining power who is terrible danger from a coven of psychic vampires who actually feed on the “Shining” precognitive powers called “The True Knot”. Like blood to a conventional vampire, the True Knot bad guys feed and are rejuvenated from the essence of precognitive powers, which they call “The Steam”). When they get wind of Abra, the girl with the Shining power that makes Danny look like bush league, they naturally make her a target. As Danny was once the student and Dick Hallorahan the teacher, now Danny must be the teacher and savior.
Reaction: I haven’t read a book I could truly say “I couldn’t put it down!” about in a very long time. Reading Doctor Sleep was like that. I had my e-reader with me everywhere, snatching five minutes here and there to read just one more chapter. I was addicted! This was a very enjoyable read and very engrossing. I got my money’s worth.