Doctor Sleep by Stephen King © 2013 Hodder & Stoughton
You all know the premise for this one, Dan Torrance, the Shining boy, all grown up. Shining hasn’t been good to thirtyish Dan. Like his dear departed father, Dan is an alcoholic, in Dan’s case mainly to quiet the voices and visions in his head. He drifts from nursing home job to nursing home job, where the shining, for some reason never explained, allows him to help the nearly departed go peacefully over the Great Divide. Thus, Dan is known as Dr. Sleep.
Dan’s wanderings land him in Frazier, New Hampshire, a tourist town, where he finally begins to dry out and turn his life around. Actually, to this point, Dr. Sleep was pretty good. Dan was a wretch, but you felt sorry for him and rooted for him to get better, knowing all the while the shining was going to come back to haunt him sooner or later. The story seemed to be whether Dan could handle another shining crisis without falling back into his derelict ways.
He faces a shining crisis, and unfortunately this was where the book went off the rails. Another shining prodigy, Abigail, gets into Dan’s head, and through Abby, Dan is apprised of the True Knot, a vagabond group of immortals who kill people—mainly children—to steal their life force and keep on being immortal. The True Knot reminds you of Charlie Manx, the villain in King’s son’s book, NOS4A2, to which King even makes reference. That was one literary “child” that should have been offed.
Anyway, the True Knot becomes psychically aware of Abby and realize she is going to cause trouble for them, so they set out to kill her, and Dan gets drawn into the fight. He ends up taking on the True Knot at the very site of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, while he is in Abby’s psychic guise. Much of the Abby/Dan/True Knot conflict occurred in the participants’ heads, which made it hard to grasp the “action.” Characters’ psychic abilities conveniently waxed and waned to even out the fight. The story suffered from too much supernatural. By the end of it, it seemed everybody had the shining to some degree or another. The element lost its punch.
I think if King had left out the Abby angle and made the True Knot a bunch of “normal” serial killers who Dan had to use the shining to defeat, this would have been a tighter, better story. The focus strayed too much from Dan, who was the one compelling character. Almost always, King delivers an intriguing batch of characters and makes you care about them while they wade a cheesy plot. But Dr. Sleep’s one good character got buried in the cheese.
Had this been written by someone else, I might have said it’s good enough, but I expect more from Steve-O. For the first time since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, I send a King tome across the Great Divide to my recycling bin