Goodreads Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ooooh, Doctor Sleep. What do I say about you? I suppose I should mention that The Shining was never one of my favorites, despite my rabid love of most things Stephen King. It had moments, sure, but for the most part I could have lived my life quite happily without input from Danny Torrance and his drunken, abusive father and milquetoast mother.

Of course, thirty-ish years later, I’m still shelling out to buy the sequel, so I suppose that says something, doesn’t it?

The premise? Danny Torrance isn’t coping so well. Despite plenty of sunshine, love from his mother and a bit of psychic assistance from his pal Dick Halloran (who, as longtime readers may remember, saved little “Doc”‘s bacon back in The Shining), he’s become exactly what he despised. A washed up drunk who thinks it’s totally okay to steal from a single mother, so long as he can keep enough antifreeze in his system to keep the psychic voices quiet. Of course, that doesn’t make for much of a compelling character nor a Stephen King plot, so after finally discovering he’s hit rock bottom, Danny gets himself into the program, finds himself a nice quiet town, and all seems to be coming up roses at last.

Except for the guilt, that is. And the occasional psychic flashes of a young girl (Abra) who’s going to need his help, and of something terrible waiting ahead, a woman in a top hat who is not to be trifled with.

Doctor Sleep leads us down some interesting byways about redemption and the responsibilities inherent to the guilty and those with power, and prods at the idea of the abused-becoming-abuser (whether it be a child or a substance) concept, and does most of it fairly well; the prose is as clean and quick as King’s usual fare, and the True Knot are certainly an interesting take on vampires. Rosie the Hat makes for a suitably crazy villain, and despite the sappiness of the blossoming relationship between Abra and Danny (that has more than it’s share of echoes and callbacks to Doc and Dick in the original book, deliberately so), it works well enough, with the possible exception of one little plot twist regarding Abra’s heritage that comes up in the last few pages; most readers will see it coming, and dread it, and when it’s finally confirmed, it’s facepalm worthy (and a coincidence of the sort that only happens in Stephen King novels, to paraphrase one of his other characters from another series) but you can mostly ignore it and continue on.

Then you get to the ending. Had the book just stopped as Danny and his friends prepared to saddle up and ride down to the Overlook (because of course the ghosts of the past have their hands in the troubles of the present; if there’s one thing this book is about, it’s that one cannot escape the past; surprisingly, it manages to convey this theme without becoming completely heavy handed about it, and half the callbacks will only ding the “aha” moment later, or if you go back and reread the first one), I think I might have liked it better. Had the finale played out a little differently, or had the ultra-sappy reunion scene not been forced upon us (and this seems to be a trend with Mr. King of late; see also the end of 11/22/63 or Joyland) it might also have remained fairly well regarded. Alas, with the War of the Worlds-esque defeat of the True Knot and far too much handholding in the epilogue, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Now, that nastiness aside, there’s things to like here; most of the characters are interesting and well fleshed out (Rosie the Hat in particular is quite a joy to read, for me; that probably says something about my warped state of mind, but oh well.) and the plot moves along at a decent clip without skipping around unnecessarily. Personally, I would have liked to see more development for the members of the Knot, more background and detail on their escapades (actually, a whole novel on the main crew in this book coming together would do well on my wish list, methinks), but for who we get, King does well.

Overall, if you’re looking for a good redemption story, or if you just have to know what became of Danny, Wendy and Dick after the events of The Shining, it’s worth a read; otherwise, it’s probably safe to pass it up. You aren’t missing much. Except the opportunity to look with morbid curiosity every time an RV full of old people on vacation drives by you on the freeway…

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