"Doctor Sleep" Book Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Published by Scribner
Written by Stephen King
2013, 528 pages, Fiction
Released on September 24, 2013
I'll admit I may be a touched biased when it comes to Stephen King books, so in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a huge King fan, and own every book he's ever written. Putting that aside, I was worried when he announced the concept behind Doctor Sleep. The short story, pun not intended, is that this is a follow up to one of his earliest novels, The Shining, which is about a boy with a deeply disturbed father and some unique talents. You may have seen the film, but if you haven't read the book, you missed a lot. It's in my top five of his books, which is saying something, because the man has written over 70 novels, short story collections and more in his storied career. I felt going into this book the way I feel about most sequels; that is, if you don't have anything new to add, then it's not worth it.
I needn't have worried. This is a wholly unique story, telling the backstory of young Danny Torrance's struggles to put his past and his father's demons behind him. Dan has become the man he never wanted to be, Jack Torrance, seeking solace and quiet at the bottom of various bottles – doing whatever he can to drown out the strange power in his head. After hitting bottom, Dan struggles to get his life in order over the course of several years. Meanwhile, Abra Stone, a young girl with powers that dwarf Dan's own, comes to the attention of a group of pseudo-vampires named The True Knot, who subsist off a substance they call "steam", which is derived from capturing, torturing and killing kids with similar abilities. They are centuries old in some cases, very powerful, very hungry, and they want Abra.
What King does so effortlessly well is flesh out characters and give them a real life. Imbued with backstories and colorful descriptions, his novels are populated by "real" people. And he doesn't make his protagonists perfect. They have flaws and heartaches, and, in some stories, unhappy endings. That talent for world building is in fine evidence here as well. It does take a little effort to slog through at the beginning, as King has decades of history to catch us up on, because the seemingly "happy" ending of The Shining fails to bear itself out and we see Dan's descent and rise and Abra evolve from a gifted toddler to a young adult suddenly in the sights of a deadly prey. There are twists and turns aplenty that I won't spoil here, but it really grips and moves rapidly once all the players are on the chess board.
While not one of his best, Doctor Sleep is definitely in the upper tier of King's books. Additionally, if you haven't read The Shining, there is enough of a recap (a short, literary version of a TV show's "Previously, on…") and enough of an original plot and distance from those events that having read it would be beneficial, but not required. Unlike some of King's stories, the ending doesn't feel rushed or contrived. It coalesces naturally and satisfyingly to a strong conclusion. And, as always, there are a few Easter eggs to be found alluding to other King books and characters.