Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review of Doctor Sleep: Stephen King's Worthy Sequel to The Shining

I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the very late sequel (about 36 years later) to his influential 1977 novel The Shining. The Shining was predicated on hero Jack Torrance's flaws, as a father and a human being. Jack was haunted not only by ghosts at the Overlook Hotel, but by alcoholism, a bad temper, and deep doubts about his parenting. Doctor Sleep is about the son Danny, now a grown man, spiralling into alcholism and aimlessness. That said, Doctor Sleep is richly rewarding. It’s not quite the same as The Shining, but if you’ve read The ShiningDoctor Sleep is a worthy sequel. 

Moreover, Doctor Sleep is very good in many places. King writes revealingly and genuinely about a middle-aged protagonist grappling with alcoholism, trying to change his life for the better, but also contending with dark forces with help from the younger generation. I understand that alcoholics attending rehab like the book because it speaks to their own struggles.

The hook for Doctor Sleep is that little Danny Torrance, from the first novel, is now middle-aged now, an alcoholic like his father Jack. Dan drinks, though, to numb himself from seeing horrifying ghosts and apparitions. Unlike ol’ Dad, who succumbed both to alcoholism and to the influences of ghosts at the Overlook, Daniel endures an experience that grants him an epiphany. He realizes he must stop drinking. Reintroducing readers to Daniel Torrance, King writes adeptly about a hero grappling with alcoholism and white-knuckle sobriety, not to mention about some truly horrific situations.

As in his 1975 Salem’s Lot, a modernized Dracula in small-town America, King’s hero relives a scene that motives them through their long journey. (In Salem's, the young Ben Mears witnesses a man who hung himself in the abandoned Marsten House.) Dan, in Doctor Sleep, wakes one morning in bed with a barroom pickup, several hundred dollars poorer, and having hit rock bottom. He realizes he must confront his alcoholism.

After this all-time low, Dan imbibes alone under a bridge. Realizing how far he has fallen from anything resembling a stable life, he decides to sober up. Dan also realizes he needs help, an alcoholic’s toughest realization. He moves to the small town of Frazier, and tries to start over. King in showing Dan's long nights and agonizy over resisting the temptation of having just one drink, King taps into serious oil, here. Every toss and turn that Dan feels the reader also feels. Dan is at his wits’ end. Doctor Sleep is not so much as a descent as the Shining; it’s the character’s attempt to ascend his addiction. 

The story moves forward several years. Daniel holds down his day job at a palliative care unit. Here he earns the moniker that is the book’s title. Daniel has a knack for seeing patients off for their final moments. When the house cat, Gabe (Gabriel, here, in heavy-handed symbolism), sits overnight on a particular patient’s bed, this is the signal for Dan's co-workers to call Doctor Sleep. King succeeds, in several touching scenes, in showing Dan help people in their last moments of life. Such scenes made me teary-eyed.

The Shining sequel also introduces Abra, a younger character who shines. She sees ghosts and other otherworldly entities like 12-year-old Danny Torrance could see such things in The Shining. But she's far more powerful than he ever was. There’s a supernatural band of Recreational Vehicle (RV) drivers tracking down Abra, sort of soul-draining energy monsters. King portrays some cruel and scary characters here while also revealing their human sides, if that makes any sense.

Forgive the drift into vagueness. No spoilers, here. 

Doctor Sleep is, in turns, a little bloated, from Dan's internal monologues to touchstones of American life to brand names. Dan argues with himself in his head. This internal argument has long been King's favourite means of characterization and internal interplay. The author doesn’t steep his story in Americana—he deep fries it. His continues to profess his love of the interstate highway system. This was a noticeable detail from his 1984 fantasy novel, The Talisman, co-authored with Peter Straub. In Doctor Sleep, King also drops many brandnames, mentioning WalMart and the EarthCruiser recreational vehicle a little often. Admittedly, the antagonist drives an RV but to repeatedly name this make and model, along with the make and model of a car of a protagonist, gets conspicuous. That said, King likes touchstones that Americans see on a daily basis, whether familiar brands or famliar businesses.

But Doctor Sleep have the same visceral impact as The Shining

Well, no, because the novel is not weighted on a father’s tragic flaws. Rather, it is weighted on the son feeling doomed to become his father. Doctor Sleep is, oddly enough, a brave horror story. Dan struggles with his drinking and his temper like his father Jack did. Unlike, Jack, though, Daniel stares down his alcoholism and tries to connect with other human beings, even getting to know the younger generation. 

And, of course, this being a King novel, King shows that he still has the chops for truly terrifying and heroic moments along the way. Doctor Sleep hits hard in places, landing emotional and horrifying blows. 

No comments:

Post a Comment