I finally got the chance to sit down and devour NOS4A2, Joe Hill’s lovely little book about a man, a girl, and a nasty car. Not long before, I slogged through Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s followup to The Shining, about a man, a girl, and a nasty chick in a top hat. When I put NOS4A2 down – and fairly often while I was reading it – I found myself thinking about the strange, almost sub rosa similarities… and more importantly, the differences. There’s liable to be spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want the surprises ruined, it’s probably best you skip this. Also, for some of the echoes and callbacks, you have to sort of take The Shining and Doctor Sleep as a single volume, which may be just messiness and opinionated BS on my part, but hey, it’s my blog, I do what I want. XD
Anyway. So, at their hearts, both the Shining novels and NOS4A2 have lovely little psychic children. Danny Torrence has “the shine,” seemingly a relatively catch-all term for psychic capabilities that, in this case, seem mostly centered on telepathy, precognition and postcognition. Vic McQueen has a special bridge – that she terms the Shorter Way – that seems to infallibly take her where she needs to go. Both come from… questionable households. Danny’s mother is a bit of a milquetoast, smiling gently and just going along to get along; his father is a verbally, emotionally and (occasionally) physically abusive drunk. Vic’s mother is a verbally abusive drunk, while dad likes to get rough with mom, and spends some time tipping the bottle himself.
Move forward a bit. Danny’s daddy decides their last chance at coming through okay, their last chance to make a go of it and be a real family, is to take a job caretaking a hotel with a bad reputation for the winter. Wacky hijinks ensue when Danny’s talent awakens the denizens of the Overlook, who are hungry for the part of Danny that makes him shine. Vic is the catalyst in her family, deciding that amidst divorce and custody discussions that the only way to prove her parents love her is to disappear, so she uses her powers to go looking for trouble… and gets herself kidnapped by Charlie Manx, proprietor of Christmasland (and a nasty soul-sucking murderer.)
Both Danny and Vic use their wits and talents to escape these predicaments, though not without cost. Danny’s father dies when the Overlook explodes, and Vic’s parents do not magically love her any more (in fact, growing more distant from her). Leaving both children essentially adrift. Similar experiences of adolescent criminality and attempts at mental escape, both positive and negative, litter their lives for decades, until – like the wheel of Ka that King is so fond of writing about – things come right back around again.
Danny, trying to put the lid on his drinking and abusiveness, swearing not to become just like his father, has found peace and quiet in a hospice, using his talents to help his patients pass on in peace and dignity. With the arrival of a gang of psychic vampires called the True Knot, and the discovery of a connection to a young girl named Abra, however, Danny’s life becomes immensely more complicated, leading to a multi-state romp to best the bad guys, save the girl, and redeem his own fractured soul. With an apocalyptic battle near the ruins of the Overlook (right where he began), he seems to have done that, and the book is capped with a nicely saccharine family scene of Danny with his niece and half-sister, everybody going home happy. The True Knot are dead. Danny has achieved peace with his father’s memory and himself. He has a place in the world, and it’s a good one with family and friends.
Vic, meanwhile, has tried to channel her mind into creative outlets. With a series of successful children’s books and by working on an old Triumph motorcycle, she’s doing a lot of mental housecleaning… until Manx crawls back into her life, hungry for revenge. Kidnapping her son, Wayne, Manx leads Vic on a merry cross-country chase that culminates at Christmasland, where Vic lays to rest her demons, affirms her love for her son (and mends fences with her dad along the way), and blows Christmasland and it’s unwholesome inhabitants to kingdom come. In the epilogue, Wayne’s father returns to Manx’s house (Sleigh House… get it?! XD), where he first met Vic as she was escaping from Manx the first time, and ends it properly. Not everything is sunshine and roses in this one, however. Vic dies in the process of getting Wayne away from Manx and his “children.” Some of those children, nasty little vampires that they are, survive and escape the ruins of Christmasland into the “real world,” where the games never have to end. Wayne’s father is suffering from some severe health issues, and while he’s on the road to wellness and has found love with the FBI agent who was working their case, and saved his son from becoming one of the critters, he’s not all the way there yet… and Wayne has the shadow hanging over his head of the things he did – and wanted to do – while Manx had him, and until he was freed from the murderer’s influence.
Perhaps I’m just babbling; I know I’m prone to doing that. But it just feels like King and his son both started at the same point – like some bizarre college writing assignment (your story must start with a psychic child, include themes of abuse, phyrric victories and survivor’s guilt, and end with explosions) – then ran off in different directions… and while part of me wishes I could say King, the old master, did it better… I just can’t. Doctor Sleep is an okay book. Just… okay. Maybe it’s because I never had a great love of The Shining, but it doesn’t grab me. NOS4A2 does. And I guess that’s all there is to say on that. It also feels almost like a “passing the torch” sort of moment; it’s time for King to kick up his feet and take it easy, but never fear… Hill is here to give us the shivers that his daddy used to. And I’m quite okay with that. From my exposure to Joe (Heart-Shaped Box and NOS4A2, with a copy of 20th Century Ghosts on the way), he’s got things well in hand.