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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep is Stephen King’s follow up The Shining. Though I recently reread The Shining, this was the first new -  for - me  King novel that I have read in decades.   I thought that this book was an excellent horror tale. It included a compelling plot, good writing and some in intelligent action and suspense elements. The book also played with some interesting themes. Some of the characters were somewhat complex, however, this book was not the deep psychological study that The Shining was. This was first published in 2013.


My post on The Shining is here. Early on in this book we learn about the future of Danny, Wendy Torrance and Dick Hallorann, who were major characters in the first novel, in the years that followed their escape from the horrors of The Overlook Hotel. This story chronicles how Danny, who still has psychic powers, had fallen into a life of alcoholism and violence in the 1990s. However, in the early 2000’s he settles down in a small New England town, where he quits drinking, cleans up and makes real and reliable friends. There is a lot here about Alcoholics Anonymous. King is a recovering alcoholic so I assume he knows a lot from experience. 

After his reformation, Danny gets a job as an orderly in a home for the dying. There, he is known to comfort those in their last hours so well, he gets the nickname “Doctor Sleep”. Over the years Danny also established a psychic connection with Abra Stone, a young girl who also shows strong psychic or Shining powers. The reader is also introduced to a traveling group of nomads known as The True Knot. These are nearly immortal, vampire - like characters who travel America in motorhomes as they kidnap and torture children. The children’s dying agonies release something called “steam” that The True Knot feeds upon to maintain their powers. This group is led by a charismatic woman known as Rose the Hat. Abra eventually psychically tunes in to one of the True Knot’s grisly murders. She begins to poke into more of their doings with her mind. Rose begins to also  psychically poke into Abra  and eventually decides to start hunting her. Danny is drawn into protecting Abra. Psychic and real life confrontations between Danny, Abra as well as their allies and The True Knot ensue. Eventually a final battle is fought at the site of the now destroyed Overlook Hotel. 

The book is full of observations about human nature, life death and all sorts of other things. There are themes floating around that involve responsibility, guilt, mortality, etc. All this is fairly typical of King. This is not there deep psychological dive that The Shining was but there are  some interesting things going on with the characters. Abra in particular  is somewhat complex. She is mostly an intelligent and likable teenager. However, she has a temper. At times she enjoys  using her powers against The True Knot a little too much. While this group engages in monstrous behavior and is out to kidnap and harm her, she begins to revel when using her powers to hurt its members. She also occasionally lets her temper drive her power in other situations. At one point Danny comments to her, 

No lecture and no moral. Just blood calling to blood. The stupid urges of wakeful people. And you've made it to a time of life when you're completely awake. It's hard for you. I know that. It's hard for everyone, but most teenagers don't have your abilities. Your weapons. 

Despite some issues, the reader is left with the impression that Abra will take a virtuous path and not allow the dark aspects of her personality to dominate. 

The True Knot and Rose are also interesting. When dealing with humans, the group are a bunch of monsters. They torture and murder children. Their actions are sociopathic. However, among themselves they behave morally and ethically. They also exhibit genuine, warm emotions between themselves. Rose is actually a good leader. She does not lead by using fear. Instead she leads mostly by persuasion and charisma. She feels compassion and love for the other members of the group. This connection between members is not cultish but resembles the emotional bonds between old spouses and friends. 

After a gunfight between men Danny and his allies and members of the True Knot, one of the group, named Snake, lays dying. He comments,

“ We didn’t choose to be what we are any more then you did. In our shoes, you’d do the same. …

“Your people slaughter pigs and cows and sheep. Is what we do any different?”

Perhaps King is saying it relates that otherwise good, seemingly balanced people can tolerate and participate in bad actions? This was a factor when it came to slavery and the Holocaust. Is King suggesting that current day people might be engaging in a little of this?

There are multiple references and call backs to The Shining. For, instance at one point Danny is on a job interview and wonders if his father ever did the same thing. It turns out that the earlier novel began with a job interview for Jack Torrance. Over the course of the interview there are parallels with that earlier interview. There are lots of such references to the earlier book. It all cumulates in the end when the ghost of Jack Torrance plays a decisive roll in the final battle against The True Knot. 

This novel is expertly written within the bounds of popular literature. King is very good at writing horror, intelligent action and portraying characters with enough complexity to retain interest. 

I thought that this book had a few flaws. In several points of this novel, Danny, Abra and their allies fight The True Knot both physically and psychically. The evil group seems to lose in most of these encounters and ultimately does not seem to be all that formable. A more effective group of antagonists would have strengthened the story. We also see the ghost of Dick Hallorann at one point delving out some simplistic but satisfying philosophy. The novel would have benefitted with more of him. 

There is a film version of this that was made a couple of years ago. Though King did approve of the movie, the film was a sequel to the film version of The Shining. This novel is a sequel to the novel The Shining. Thus, there are some fairly major differences between this book and the film, especially towards the end. 

While not quite up to The Shining, this was an exceptional horror book. King is a skilled writer and knows how to craft a story that works in many ways. There was some depth here as King freely shares his observations on all sorts of issues and plays with some interesting ideas. The characters were also mostly interesting and engaging, I would recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed The Shining.

45 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm not a fan of horror, but if I were to read any, I'd read Stephen King's "The Shining" and this one. And on a different note, thanks for your comment on my Lego post but alas, I inadvertently deleted it somehow and could not retrieve it. Sorry!

Judy Krueger said...

You have convinced me to read both books. The themes you mention as well as the conflicts sound applicable to today's world. I am currently reading some of Joyce Carol Oates's earlier novels. She has a different approach perhaps than King, but much of her stuff includes forms of horror. So I think these two books would complement my thinking on such things.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Debra - The Shining was something special and this was worth the read.’

No worries about the comment. I have done that.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Judy - I would like to know what you think of these books.

I have not read Oats but I would like to give her a read.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian,

I really enjoyed your review, which is as close as I will get to a Stephen King novel. My husband enjoys them, especially his science fiction, but he gives me nightmares.

But it was fun reading your synopsis!

James said...

I read several Stephen King novels more than forty years ago and, while I enjoyed them - especially The Stand - I have not had the urge to read him since. Your review is excellent, but I doubt that I will include King on my reading list any time soon.

Kathy's Corner said...

Great review Brian. I am going to read The Shining early next year. I haven't read that many horror books but Stephen King is a master in this genre and its high time I read him. I also like the fact as you say that his books are not only about telling a scary story but also about character development and observations about human nature, guilt, morality etc.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon - I must give his science fiction a try.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James. I also had not read him in awhile before I reread The Shining. I just had a ten to read these two books.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy - I really do not read much horror myself. King really is a cut above many horror writers for all the reading mentioned.

JacquiWine said...

Shirley Jackson aside, I'm not a big reader of horror. Nevertheless, the themes King explores in his books seem interesting and intriguing. A landmark writer for sure.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - For a popular writer, King really goes into some interesting directions. As this book is fairly recent, he has done this over a long period of time.

thecuecard said...

So have you seen the Dr. Sleep movie ? I guess it came out in 2019. I haven't watched it. Would you say this book contains more supernatural elements than The Shining? I liked how the movie The Shining seemed rooted in everyday reality of this man getting a new job at a resort etc. .... but then aspects happen which are spooky and beyond ... but your review seems to suggest this book has more supernatural elements. hmm

Lark said...

I'm not sure I can say that I loved The Shining when I read it a few years ago, but I did really like Danny and I've wondered about this book and his role in it. It certainly sounds like this one has all the elements of a good King novel. I might have to check it out. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lark - This book has all sorts of good elements. Though if you were lukewarm about The Shining you might want to try different King.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue - I saw and liked Doctor Sleep the film.

Thinking about it, this had a lot more supernatural elements then The Shining.

The Liberty Belle said...

Seems like a book worth reading. Thanks for sharing your review. Peace and blessings throughout the week.

Dorothy Borders said...

I have long admired King from afar. I've never actually read any of his books, although I have read essays, reviews, etc. that he has written. Horror is not a genre that I would normally read, but your reviews of King's books certainly tempt me.

Stefanie said...

Glad you enjoyed it. My husband read this one not long after it came out and liked it. I have not read The Shining and have no plans to, the movie gave me nightmares, the book would probably keep me from sleeping for weeks!

Suko said...

Thanks for the terrific review and reminder that The Shining has a sequel. I've seen it multiple times. It's a great, scary horror movie! Jack Nicholson is fantastic in his role. Doctor Sleep sounds very gripping as well.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Bellle - Have a great week!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Dorothy - I actually do not read a lot of horror. I just drove into it from time to time. King is a good is a good writer to do so with.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie- The Shining was such a good book. But horror can be disturbing.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. The Shining movie was really something special. The book was great but in many ways different.

The Padre said...

Brother Man, Excellent Review And I Couldn't Agree More - The Movie Totally Detours From The Book Nearing The End - Also, In The Movie, Amazing Set From The Original As Well During Danny's Interview - That Spooked Me In A Big Way - I Personally Feel That Hollywood Miss Picked The Character Abra - And That Emotional Bond Rose Creates Between An Old Spouse Or Friend Depend The Horror - So Damn Eerie How Well That Work - Again, Fantastic Review - Enjoy The Week And Experience An Even Better Weekend

Cheers

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Padre.

The movie really did deviate toward the end. I think that had a lot to do with the fate of The Overlook in the original Shining book verses movie.

That True Knot thing was very eerie.

Have a great week!

Susan Kane said...

Have you read The Dark Tower? It is a series 8 books? and well written. The movie stars Matthew McConauhey, Idris Alba

I read the Shining ages ago. Saw the movie ONCE. I do not like the evil that usually comes with horror.


Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - I have neither read or seen the Dark Tower . It looks good though.

Both this book and The Shining focused upon pure evil.

Susan Kane said...

Stephen King is a brilliant writer. My husband has a row of King's books, will have to see if Dr. Sleep is there.

I don't like horror movies; that taste of evil bothers me. Thanks for bringing King to your post.

Have you read or seen the movie "The Dark Tower"? Matthew McConnaughay, Idris Alba do stand out jobs.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - I have not read or seen The Dark Tower but it looks very good.

baili said...

sounds like an engaging book dear Brain

horror is not my thing anymore for unknown reason yet i would feel compelled to it if it treats with human psyche whether positive or dark

i liked the novel through your excellent commentary it sounds appealing indeed ,because i have not read The shining yet so i would like to read it first and then this one probably
thank you for insightful reviews always that increase my passion for reading more :)
blessings!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili. I also do not read a lot of horror. But once in a while and I try to be selective.

It would make sense to read The Shining first.

the bookworm said...

Fantastic commentary as always Brian, I am glad you enjoyed reading Doctor Sleep. The Shining is a favorite King classic so I wondered how King could possibly follow up to that one and I loved this book when I read it. I enjoyed seeing what became of Danny and I liked the references to The Shining throughout. I agree, there could have been more of Dick Holloran's ghost here and there giving Danny advice. I watched the film version of Doctor Sleep and barely made it through the movie. Some books just don't translate well on screen.
Enjoy your week and stay well.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida - This really was a worthwhile sequel. The Shining was a great horror book and it was neat to find out what happened to everyone.

Films and movies are so different.

Stephen said...

I enjoyed The Shining, and it's hard to imagine a sequel could live up to it. Dr. Sleep seems to enjoy good reception all around, though.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephen - While I did not think that it was quite up to the Shining, it was a very good horror book.

Kirk said...

I did read Doctor Sleep. I thought it was very good, though, as you said, not as good as The Shining. King is very good when it comes to the everyman protagonist, and what this novel interesting in that regard is the at everyman Danny Torrance has what everyman DOESN'T have: psychic powers. In fact, all the psychic characters have believable personalities in this one.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kirk - Good point about King portraying average people so well.

Psychic powers and their effect on everyday people and personalities are indeed well portrayed here.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Hmm! Having had several friends discussing this recently; their thoughts on it very mixed, I was undecided as to whether or not to read it. Thank you for such a compelling arguement,I'm not sure I'd go as far as to actually buy a copy but I'm now determined read it I must.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Felicity- I would like to know what you thought about it. If you have not already, I would read The Shining first.

The Liberty Belle said...

Stopping back through to say 'congrats' on winning a prize in my little giveaway.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Belle! I would have been over anyway as I always read your posts.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I haven’t read The Shining, so might need to wait a while before reading this one. Stephen King is so good at his type of writing because he doesn’t do two dimensional characters.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue - I would read The Shining first. Kings characters are good.

JaneGS said...

Although horror is not a genre I can read much of, King is such a fantastic writer I have to say that I've enjoyed every King novel I've read. I actually have read The Shining (since I live only 40 minutes from the Stanley Hotel, which served as the model for the Overlook, how could I not?), and did like it. I've been toying with reading this sequel and your review has convinced me that I should...maybe next year!