Stephen King’s writing has, without a doubt, matured over time. I enjoyed his early works, but somewhere in the 1990s I lost interest. Perhaps it was the Dark Tower series, which I could never get into; regardless, I drifted away from King and into the Koontz camp (Dean Koontz, another horror/sci fi writer) and didn’t pick up a King novel until a few years ago when, bored and looking for something to read at the library, I rediscovered why I love Stephen King’s books.
And among King’s books, Doctor Sleep stands out as one of my all-time favorites.
It’s hard to review a book like this without giving away anything. I’m not a fan of spoilers, even though I tend to skip to the end of a Stephen King novel to make sure my favorite characters make it to the end of the tale alive. I’ll try my best not to spoil the plot nor give away any of the revelations in this book.
Doctor Sleep picks up the life of Dan Torrance, the little boy we last left fleeing The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Most people have seen the Jack Nicholson movie version of The Shining, with the iconic image of his crazed, sweat-streaked face leering around the doorway of the caretaker’s apartment breathing, “He—eee-re’s Johny!” But put all that out of your mind. If you have not read The Shining, buy a copy when you buy Doctor Sleep. Read The Shining first. Then and only then pick up Doctor Sleep.
Poor Dan Torrance has followed in his father’s footsteps straight into alcoholism. He drinks to forget the shining, his unique telepathic gifts that also enable him to see ghosts and other assorted spirits, some benign and some not so, in this world. We learn what happened to Wendy, his mother, and Dick Hallorann, the Overlook’s cook who also had the shining and acted as mentor and teacher to the young boy (and also saved his life.)
Dan hits rock bottom, and one day, after months of wandering the east coast, hopping from job to job and booze to booze, he comes to a small town where he meets a town worker with a ‘twinkle’ or a bit of the shining. He has a vision that this town is where he belongs. While he doesn’t understand why this little New Hampshire town is the place to settle down, he does. Pretty soon he enters recovery, gets sober, and rebuilds his life.
He works as a hospice nurse and with his faithful cat, Azreel (love the name; Azrael is the god of death or the angel of death in some cultures) helps the dying cross over.
One night, a little girl with a shining so strong it almost knocks him over reaches out to him. She is Abra Stone, a precocious and highly gifted child with “the shining” or psychic abilities. And her life is in danger.
A group of travelers known as The True Knot, ancient evil beings sort of a cross between demons and vampires, is after her.
The True Knot is perhaps one of King’s most brilliant creations. He has created in this book a new genre of evil creatures that I dare say will one day be as famous as vampires, mummies and Frankenstein’s monster. The True Knot are a truly original creation of pure genius; they are mildly pleasant while stunningly evil. On the one hand, they look like elderly tourists in ugly slogan shirts, ball caps and comfy shoes playing bingo at the camp ground. Those same benign-looking folks also love to mutilate, torture and feed on the essence of children with the shining.
Rose, the leader of the True Knot, is depicted on the cover of the book. She’s beautiful. She wears an antique top hat. She’s…about as close to the devil on earth as you can get. And she hates little Abra Stone with a passion.
The writing is wonderful, the cursing and sex to a minimum. That’s why I think King’s prose has matured. In some of his earlier works, the crudity put me off. I am not a prude, but I don’t appreciate a lot of gross humor or swear words or slang for this or that. I always fumed that King was a better writer, and so he is.
I’ve also been harsh in the past about King’s treatment of humanity and his vision of God. (My essay is here.)He still has that quality in his works of agnosticism, but the belief in a higher power is evident in this book, and people – real flesh and blood people outside of the True Knot – treat each other with love, compassion and dignity. A few people are idiots, but isn’t that the way life is? It’s not all unicorns, rainbows and roses. But it’s also not all garbage heaps and outhouses, and sometimes I felt like King’s earlier works dwelled too much in the garbage heaps and outhouses among humanity and not among the rainbows and unicorns. Or at least among kind-hearted, well meaning folks.
Doctor Sleep is an excellent read and I devoured it in two nights of non stop reading. I highly recommend it. My copy came from the public library, but you can purchase Doctor Sleep at your favorite bookstore or on Amazon.