In 1977, Stephen King effectively scared the crap out of all of us with The Shining, the plot of which (if you don’t know by now) involves a remote hotel called The Overlook, an alcoholic caretaker who slowly descends into insanity thanks in part to the spirits of the hotel who haven’t quite left yet, and his five-year-old son Danny who happens to be endowed with a psychic gift referred to as ‘the shining.’ Now, over thirty years later, we have the sequel.
Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrance, now middle-aged and called ‘Dan,’ as he tries to run from the metaphorical demons of his father’s alcoholism and violent tendencies (which he himself has inherited) and the literal demons of The Overlook that he tries to lock away in the back of his mind. He’s been job-hopping for years and currently attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings while also working at a hospice facility in a small town called Frazier. There he utilizes his ‘shining’ gift to help the dying reconcile themselves with their inevitable fate, thus earning him the nickname ‘Doctor Sleep.’
Meanwhile elsewhere, another child named Abra is gifted with the shining and is learning to come to terms with her gift. She’s much more powerful than she realizes, though, which earns the attention of a cultish group called the True Knot who live by drinking/eating the psychic powers (or “steam,” as they call it) of others. Abra’s powerful shining makes her the perfect meal for the True Knot, and so she needs the help of seasoned ‘shiner’ Dan Torrance in order to avoid being kidnapped, tortured, and essentially drained of her power and eventually her life.
It’s admittedly a lot to take in, but those are the bare bones of the plot. In true Stephen King fashion, the story is so fleshed out and detailed that in reality, I could spend another few paragraphs on the plot alone, but for the sake of not spoiling the surprises in store, I won’t.
The book doesn’t immediately skip decades ahead in Dan’s life but instead starts out a few years after the events in The Shining, which helps to ease the reader into the story, especially if the reader hasn’t read The Shining yet (if this applies to you, this is an open invitation for you to totally read The Shining). We’re reunited with characters from the previous book, and then before we know it, we’re meeting an entirely new cast. There’s Abra, of course, and her parents, who are aware of Abra’s powers but keep somewhat of a distance in the hopes that she’ll outgrow them. There’s the truly horrifying True Knot following led by Rose the Hat, a menacing force to be reckoned with who stops at nothing to collect steam for the True Knot and, by default, victims.
To say that Stephen King is ‘pretty good’ at writing horror is like saying water is ‘kind of’ wet. You can’t hear King’s name in everyday conversation without conjuring up some horrific mental image to go along with whatever’s being said. The imagery he brings forth in Doctor Sleep is brutal in the purest sense of the word. (Without spoiling anything: There’s one particular image that Dan revisits during the course of the novel of a little boy that, honestly, kept me from looking out in the dark for too long for fear of seeing something in the shadows.) There’s torture and murder, secrecy and abuse (of the drug, alcohol, and child kind), and none of it is glossed-over or sugarcoated.
Also, in true King fashion, the writing is simplistic; the story occasionally flip flops between Dan, Abra, and the True Knot, but there’s no self-aggrandizement in any of the pages that follow. King has a clear idea of the story he wants to tell, and though that story is admittedly a very long and winding one (500+ pages, if you’re curious), he keeps you hooked from the very first page and he doesn’t let go.
Stephen King fans, rejoice. The master hasn’t lost his touch.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Gabby Taub, the Fantasy Reviewer at Girls in Capes, is a senior at New York University studying creative writing. She enjoys reading, writing, watching TV, and spending time getting lost among the bookshelves at Strand Bookstore.