I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but things continue to be nuts and I haven’t had brain space for reviews in a while. Naturally, in the last weekish of the semester, when things are at their craziest? That’s when I decide I have time. This is why I am So Incredibly Successful and Everyone Is Jealous.
Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, proving that sequels don’t necessarily have to feel meaningfully connected to the original to be, well actually, not all that, uh… meaningfully connected to… the original. I sorta lost the thread of that for a moment there. But I’m not panning it, and I’m not doing that obnoxious fan thing where I get all sniffy when an author doesn’t treat his/her characters the way I think they should or whatever. Doctor Sleep just feels like it takes place in a totally different world, despite featuring a number of the same characters and having numerous important narrative connections to The Shining. This isn’t a bad thing, or a good thing, really; it’s just a thing. But if you’re expecting Shining 2, you’re going to be disappointed.
Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrance, son of Jack, in the years following the Torrance family’s misadventures in the Overlook Hotel. It begins soon after Jack’s boiler-related mishap (spoiler: the hotel blows up, yo) and jumps forward in fits and starts through the years until grown-up Danny, now a massive alchy, screws up his life almost beyond repair. Then he takes a bus and winds up in a tiny New England town where he gets clean and takes up a job at a local hospice. He soon has a random psychic encounter with a little girl named Abra, who is a more powerful psychic even than Dan himself. Abra has inadvertently drawn the attention of a nomadic group of child-murderers styling themselves the True Knot, a bunch of occulty weirdos who roam the US in Winnebagos kidnapping psychic kids to consume their “steam,” or life force. They get to live forever this way, which is great for them, I guess, but less good for Alma and the other kids they target. The True Knot sets out to get her, and Dan sets out to protect her.
That’s the major conflict of the novel, comprising a good two-thirds of the text. Much of this is spent developing King’s own theory of the workings of telepathy and telekinesis, with the main characters, good and bad, working out elaborate schemes to utilize their powers in complex ways and get a leg up on the other guys. Little Abra at one point sets a psychic trap for one of the baddies in which she, Abra, appears in the form of Daenerys of Game of Thrones fame and attacks the baddie with a lance. In her mind. Obviously.
The other 33% of the book consists of the most exhaustive description of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and traditions that anyone not actually a member of that organization could ever desire to read. Really, a considerable portion of the novel is dedicated to Dan’s struggles with the demon drink. The story loses some of its urgency when the text moves between the fight against the True Knot to the smug philosophizing of AA sponsors, a contrast that removes the last vestiges of horror that were The Shining’s legacy and puts Doctor Sleep more fully into the scifi genre (it has more than a few things in common with Dan Simmons’ novel The Hollow Man).
Doctor Sleep is entertaining and worth a read, and I like the message of redemption. It’s also got a cast of immensely likeable characters. It’s a very far cry from The Shining, which again, isn’t necessarily bad. But in switching genres, a move which I’m fairly sure was deliberate, I feel that much of the impact of the original was lost. Doctor Sleep is less a scary story–and it’s not supposed to be–than a protracted meditation on the Spider-Man philosophy of power and responsibility, with the twist that the guy with the power is an alcoholic. So, more like Iron Man, I guess. Only without lasers and flying.
But if they do a movie of this book, I could see Robert Downy Jr. starring. Or actually, Tobey Maguire, because that poor guy must need work.