Scribner, Hardcover, 531pp, $30.00
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
There’s an old Buddhist saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” What this basically means is that you can never escape yourself. You can run, but you can’t hide. Such is the story of Dr. Sleep. What began at the Overlook Hotel in 1977 must be finished, the circle completed, and no matter how far Danny Torrance runs, he can’t escape that one simple fact.
The ghosts of the hotel and the curse of the Indian burial ground that it was built over (Doubleday cut the prologue from The Shining, which explains a little of its history) still haunt Danny after thirty-six years. Even worse, the legacy of his father, Jack, now fits him like a tailor-made suit with the violent temper and the need for that one itsy-bitsy drink that will quench his horrible thirst for alcohol. The alcohol, of course, helps Danny to forget and to keep his visions at bay. Still, the theme of the book is as much about Danny staying sober as it is about him fighting the evil of the hotel over three decades later.
To say that Dr. Sleep is perhaps the most anticipated novel of Stephen King’s career is certainly an understatement. I suspect millions of fans have wondered over the years about the outcome of Danny Torrance’s life after The Shining. This book is the answer to that question. For those who grew up with Stephen King as a staple in their reading curriculum, Dr. Sleep is to be savored like a fine glass of Bordeaux. Try as you may, the need to find out the answers and to continue on to the next page will quickly possess you like a demon from the Overlook, and you’ll find yourself ripping through each forthcoming page faster and faster, until you’re going through the entire novel like a bloody whirlwind. That’s definitely what happened to me. Let’s just say this is Stephen King’s gift to his Constant Reader and that it needs to be enjoyed to its fullest in whatever way you choose.
Stephen King’s stories are about humanity with a strong mix of the supernatural thrown in to test the waters and to see what the outcome will be for their characters. In a nutshell, that’s why he has millions of fans. He writes about life in all of its glory and dismal tragedy, enabling the reader to feel a bond with the characters that transcends normal storytelling. The reader becomes one with them, understanding their plight because the same thing has happened to him or her in their attempt to make it through life’s dark streets and empty avenues. Most of us have never experienced an encounter with vampires or a Buick with a life of its own, desiring only to kill its next victim. I believe, however, that a large percentage of King’s fans have come into contact with death as one of their immediate family or possibly a close friend has passed away. The reader also understands the strong power of addiction and how it can hover over us in our struggles to live a good life, and the battle we constantly face in ridding ourselves of the five-hundred-pound gorilla that sits on our shoulders. We know how addiction can compel us to move down a winding slope of self-destruction at a blinding speed, perhaps hoping to self-destruct.
Dr. Sleep certainly gives the reader a close look at both death and addiction through the eyes of Danny Torrance and how he comes to face them in his fight against the evil that still follows him from state to state.
The journey of Dr. Sleep starts out with Danny as a young boy, coping with being a fatherless child and the horrible things his dead father attempted to do to him and his mother at the Overlook Hotel. It then advances in years to Danny as a young adult, drinking and fighting, unconsciously carrying the sad legacy of his dad within him wherever he goes. In time, Danny bottoms out as an alcoholic. It’s only then that he makes the vivid decision to change his ways and to hopefully find a place to live out the rest of his life.
In time Danny Torrance ends up in Frazier, New Hampshire, where he eventually gets a job in the local hospice while going to AA meetings every week. Though Danny does many things around the hospice, it’s his specialty for helping the dying patients to pass over that draws attention to him from the nurses and the cat, Azzie.
During the following years, Danny gets strange visions as the child, Abra, is born in the next town and grows into a beautiful young girl with strong powers of the shining within. Unfortunately, Danny isn’t the only one who becomes aware of this little girl and her special gift.
Rose, the beautiful and deadly leader of a group of old fogies called the True Knot, also possesses the shining. All the members of the True Knot have some level of the shining, but Rose is strong and doesn’t like to be challenged. Once she becomes aware of Abra, she sets her goal to killing the child and to use the girl’s powers for her own benefit. I should point out that the members of the True Knot travel around the country in RVs, feeding off of the young and innocent like hungry vampires.
Anyway, when Abra begins to suspect the danger she’s in, she calls out to Danny for help, and helping is what Danny does best. You see, Danny will die trying to prevent any harm from falling upon Abra. He knows from firsthand experience what it’s like to be a child with special powers and to have an unimaginable evil hunting you down. Once he’s called to help, Danny will devote every ounce of strength to destroying the True Knot and protecting Abra.
Rose and her True Knot believers don’t realize what they’ve bitten off and that the battle is coming to them big time.
Having gone back and re-read some of Stephen King’s earlier novels, I can see how far he’s come as an author, and he was a damn good writer thirty-six years ago. Now, however, his writing is that of a master craftsman: clear, concise, descriptive, easy to read, and confident. This is a man who knows exactly what’s he’s doing and does it well. King cannot write a bad novel. He might write one that a reader doesn’t like, but it will still be well-written. To me, Dr. Sleep seems like the culmination of all of King’s years as an author. He poured every bit of his heart and soul into the creation of this novel, not only please himself, but also his fans.
For readers expecting an out-and-out horror novel, this isn’t it. Though there are plenty scares in Dr. Sleep, the book is more concerned with the journeys of Danny Torrance and Abra Stone.
Danny’s journey is one of redemption. It begins at rock bottom and then gradually works its way into sobriety for the man. It’s only then that he can find his true calling in life…that of helping the dying to pass over.
Abra, on the other hand, experiences a journey of understanding in how pure evil can manifest itself within our world and how to fight it, using her gift of the shining for revenge and to protect those who are defenseless.
Both journeys are filled with indispensible meaning and personal growth as each person overcomes tragedy and heartache to push beyond their imagined limits. In many ways this is the story of man because there can be no growth without defeating the challenges placed before you. Each individual must do this on their own, even if they have the full support of their family and friends. It’s an inner struggle that must be faced and owned up to before it can be beaten into submission, if we’re lucky.
Poignant, yet true to heart, Dr. Sleep is Stephen King’s true masterpiece. It’s a story that will resonate within a reader’s heart and soul long after the last page has been turned. This is what great writing is truly about. Not the horrors of mankind, but rather the connections we make with each other that are filled with love and giving.
Dr. Sleep is the kind of novel you’ll want to re-read a second and a third time.