Freedom Chevalier reviews Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.
For my 13th birthday, my brother gave me his well-worn copy of The Shining by Stephen King. I stayed up all night to read it. Then I stayed up every night for the next week, too afraid to go to sleep. I kept thinking Mrs. Massey was sloshing about in the bathtub next door.
Doctor Sleep is King’s long awaited continuation of Danny Torrence, and his life beyond the Overlook Hotel. I dove into it, feeling the same thrill as that 13-year-old girl had, who sat up with a flashlight under the covers nearly 30 years ago.
Five pages in, Mrs. Massey surfaces to a nine-year-old Danny Torrence. King is making it clear from the start: this is going to be a very wild ride. He didn’t dissappoint.
Both writer and reader have lived lives in the years between The Shining and Doctor Sleep. The former remains the most frightful book I have ever read, but it is distinctly a young author’s work. It’s gruesomeness is cut with great slashes and leaves wide gaping wounds within the reader.
Doctor Sleep has a matured voice, steeped in experience and reality. Its cuts have frightening depth but are more precise; lethal. Hacksaw vs. scalpel.
Danny Torrence’s shining (precognition/psychic capabilites) oscilates between faint and uncontrollable destructiveness. To dampen the shining’s affects on his life, Danny turns to his father’s vice, alcohol. Caught within its grip, he drifts from town to town and job to job, until he lands in Frazier, Maine.
With a little help from kindly resident Billy Freeman, who has ‘a little bit of shine’, and Casey Kingsley, his new boss and a formidible AA sponsor, Danny settles into his new job as orderly with the Helen Rivington Hospice.
While attending to the residents he garners the monikor Doctor Sleep, for his capabilities to assist them in their passing – aided by Azzie, a cat who can sniff out an impending death.
We meet Abra, a young girl with a powerful shine in Chapter Two. She connects with Danny, telepathically – she can see him helping patients sleep. He is unable to see her but he can sense her watching him. Their link deepens as her shine develops, drawing with it unwanted attention from Rose the Hat, leader of the group the ‘True Knot’.
The Shining had its ghoulies (think of the former caretaker Grady’s little twin daughters), and similar ghastlies materialize for Doctor Sleep in the form the True Knot. They are authentic monsters that hold up against King’s biggest and grizzliest – Pennywise, the Langoliers, those big window bugs from The Mist.
The True Knot are an un-corralled threat when we first meet them, travelling the American highways in their RV convoy, searching. In pure King style, we don’t know exactly what they are at first, but we know their presence cannot be a good thing.
Their first and very real threat – that of child abduction and murder – is addressed, and that is monster enough to cause fear in any reader. Their underlying proclivities only add to the terror they carry with them.
They want Abra, and they will have her unless Danny (with a little help from old friend Tony) can intervene. It’s a post 9/11 world and Danny must also balance the very real hazard of being considered a paedophile for arranging secret meetings with a 13-year-old girl at the local library.
A delicious twist
The subsequent pursuit and confrontation, as the True Knot draw near, is a veritable Battle Royale, with carnage and causalities that are both disturbing and exceptionally well done.
There is a delicious twist at the end, which very nearly pulled me from my seat, before events wrap up with a potent sense of gratification.
Doctor Sleep is an arresting sequel that stands alone as a haunting story, one which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good scare. Perhaps, just not as a bedtime story. Now, where did I put my flashlight?