Sophia Ritchie ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
When Stephen King announced that he was revisiting one of his most famous tales, The Shining, his fan base went crazy. For even the most nonchalant of readers, The Shining is at least a movie title one recognizes. So of course, the return of Danny Torrance, the little boy gifted with a powerful psychic gift called “the shining,” is something to anticipate.
But Doctor Sleep is not The Shining. Not by a long shot.
The book picks up with Danny now a young man addled by severe alcoholism and without his gift (something he’s spent years smothering with booze and the occasional coke hit.) He’s officially hit rock bottom, and the first hundred pages or so are spent developing Dan as an adult character. He is a sweet man underneath his addiction, and one can see the echoes of his child self from the first novel. He wants to get better. Thus, when the Shining activates for the first time in years in a little New Hampshire town he stumbles upon, he chooses to stay here, to make friends, to work at the hospice at the end of the town square, and- most importantly- to join an Alcoholics Anonymous program for the first time with the intention of getting sober.
In the meantime, a child is born whose “shining” abilities are off the charts. Her name is Abra Stone. We are gifted little bits of her through the people around her, and we come to understand that Abra is powerful in an almost dangerous way. But she, like Danny, is not malevolent or violent. She’s simply a child with an incredible gift.
King crafts the first 250 pages of the novel like an ornate layer cake, with icing roses that take minutes apiece. We are given an intimately detailed look at Dan’s recovery, from his first day sober to several years later. At the same time, and with stunning organization, we see Abra grow from a newborn to a 13-year-old girl, experimenting with her gift, controlling it, and eventually trying to temper it down. These two plots touch only at the barest of minimums, a psychic Abra unintentionally reaching out to Dan without either of them really understanding or acknowledging what’s happening, and yet the two are intermingled in such a fiercely intricate way, you know from the start that Abra and Dan are tied together by something incredibly strong.
As if these two plots were not enough, King introduces some of his best villains yet in The True Knot, a band of roving psychic vampires that travel about in Winnebagos and RVs, looking more like trampy American tourists than insidious child-abductors and murderers. But of course, they do just that. They kidnap children with the shining and feed off their “steam.” They are led by Rose the Hat, an almost immortal, beautiful woman who wants nothing more than to get her hands on Abra and feed off of her.
Though they sound cartoonish, King spends an insane amount of time developing several characters in the True Knot. At points they are easier to connect with than Dan and Abra, which might have been a mistake on King’s part. Readers understand so clearly why they do what they do, and while they are never painted as sympathetic, we spend so much time in their heads it’s impossible not to see things from their twisted point of view sometimes. The result is a well-developed (almost too much so) cast of villains who we can follow at any point in the novel.
If you’re looking for the typical ecstatic, disturbing spooks of King’s former novels (like The Shining, for instance), you may be in for a bit of a disappointing surprise. There’s not a lot of the gore or nightmare-worthy twists that King is famous for. More than anything, the story is about recovery. Dan’s rise from alcoholism, and his attempts to make penance for things he did while he was drunk, is the driving force of the novel: palpable and real and hard hitting for anyone who’s ever been touched by the symptoms of addiction. His hardest struggles are always with himself. The conflict in the story, then, is turned down quite a bit, with not a lot of urgency in the 500 page book. You have to feel something for the character’s insides, rather than be in it for a juicy climax.
I came away from this novel feeling good. This, for any King fan, is understandably odd. In the end, the ride, the hundreds of pages on struggle and desire, for the hope of something getting better for someone who’s spent so long trying, is it’s own reward. It’s not a bloody one by any means, but worth it. Doctor Sleep is not The Shining. It’s something different, entirely of it’s own, and it’s something to be appreciated.