[Book Review] Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’

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How do you top your scariest novel? If you’re Stephen King, penning a sequel to The Shining 35 years later, you don’t even try. Doctor Sleep (September 24; Scribner) essentially abandons the single-setting haunts of the Overlook Hotel, instead sending a middle-aged Daniel Torrance out into the world to use his powers of “the shining” to make the world a better place. As a psychological thriller, Doctor Sleep is as good as it gets, a truly satisfying beach read. But it disappoints as a literary follow-up to King’s most haunting novel. Replacing the ghostly scares with psychic skirmishes and hot clairvoyant action, Doctor Sleep occasionally feels like an 1980’s TV series about a telepath hitching across the country solving mysteries.

Picking up in 1981, the sequel has Danny and a limping Wendy still recovering from the harrowing events at the Overlook Hotel, which was destroyed after the boiler explosion. Those more familiar with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film than the original novel may be surprised to find Dick Hallorann alive and kicking, still serving as a sage mentor to a pre-adolescent Danny. Revisiting the events and characters from the Overlook serves as a scolding reminder from King that The Shining was a book first and a movie second, and don’t you ever forget it.

With his callback quota finally met, King is content to move on with his plot. Dan Torrance––now a quasi-hobo using hardcore alcoholism to quell “the shining”––hits rock bottom after cleaning out the purse of a coke-addled single mom. He finds salvation in a small town in New Hampshire where he cleans up, dries out, and makes some new friends using his special powers. But just when things are looking up for poor Dan, he’s contacted by Abra, a young clairvoyant girl on the run from the True Knot, a cult of immortal telepaths who hunt down children with “the shining” in order to drain them of all power.

The strength of Doctor Sleep lies in King’s vivid depictions of mental gamesmanship as Abra and the leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat, square off in a handful of psychic smack-downs. Not since The Dead Zone have psychic powers been so lovingly explored and detailed. But despite cameo appearances by Mrs. Massey and Horace Derwent, Doctor Sleep lacks the haunting tone and setting of its predecessor, instead adopting the slick rhythyms of a well-tuned thriller. It’s still a fine novel, but superfans of The Shining should go into Doctor Sleep knowing they’re in for an entirely different bag of bones.

  • irgubko

    Yeah, and Rose the Hat is actually the only King’s woman villains I can come up with. Here’s my review (no spoilers):

    http://book-reviews-gal.com/doctor-sleep-review/

    • weresmurf

      Does this exist in Kings Crimson King/Dark Tower/Randall Flagg continuiity or does it exist in his other non-related Insomnia continuiities?

      • HOAX_ARTHUR_WILMOTH

        other non-related continuity – no references to other stories than the Shining (That I remember).

  • HOAX_ARTHUR_WILMOTH

    hmm, I don’t know about 4/5 for the entire story. It does start off strong and I was returned to the world of “The Shining” for the first half hour, or until Danny arrives at a certain “train station”. But, from there I felt like it fell apart. Then, I felt like I was attending AA meetings from the rest of the book. This was more of an ode to King’s sobriety and AA attendance than a horror novel for me.

    • Ryan Daley

      Yeah, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Lotta AA purging going on here.

    • Josh

      Considering the Shining itself was mostly a meditation on the troubles of alcoholism, that just kind of seems like a natural progression.

      • HOAX_ARTHUR_WILMOTH

        Agreed. But it was almost as if King was inserting quips and sayings from his own meeting to fill pages, I became bored and started to skim – which is usually a rarity for me during a King book.

  • WalkingDeadGuy

    Awesome spoiler-free review.

  • Mr.Mirage
  • railridden

    I didn’t like it at all. Stephen King is an enormously sentimental writer. He likes his characters too much. Even if they die, they die after being redeemed.

    He has written books that work, but this isn’t one of them. I feel like you’re giving it 4/5 solely because it’s Stephen King.

  • Nothing333

    I haven’t read King in years and boy was I disappointed in Dr Sleep. It seemed like a hastily written cash in. Parts felt like eye rolling fan service (redrum redux, the return of ghosts from the overlook, etc. ). The 911 part almost made me stop reading due to pure cheese factor. I couldn’t give this one a pass.

    • HOAX_ARTHUR_WILMOTH

      yeah, I agree, the 9-11 part was cheese, along with the primary location they chose to camp at. “Bad areas attract bad things” was really a cop out. But hey, at least King didn’t insert himself into the story, that is still unforgivable to me.