It's sad, but I can count the number of Stephen King books I've read on one hand. THE SHINING, DUMA KEY and now, DOCTOR SLEEP. I've also read ON WRITING, I believe because it was required reading in a creative writing class I took in college. Deservedly so. If you're a writer and haven't read it yet, get on it right away.
And yet I wouldn't hesitate to say King is one of my favorite writers. I'm much more familiar with the film adaptations of his stories, but they are still his stories. So I'm a fan.
It is on my ever growing to-do list to read the original novels of stories like IT, CARRIE, THE STAND, PET SEMATARY, etc. but we all know how those lists tend to fare. I still haven't gotten to a bunch of Neil Gaiman books, like GOOD OMENS, AMERICAN GODS, and then of course, ANANSI BOYS. So King is in good company, I suppose.
I've missed a couple of his more recent novels, but I could not pass up DOCTOR SLEEP. It's the sequel to THE SHINING, which is one of my favorite horror novels, and in it King catches us up with how life has been treating Danny Torrance ever since he and his mother survived the insanity at the Overlook Hotel.
I'm going to take just a moment here to be totally unprofessional (not that I'm ever 100% professional here) and say: UGGGGH IT'S JUST SO GOOD. GODDAMN IT.
I don't think there's ever a better way to explain a book than pure, unfiltered, instant reaction. Every time I had to put the book down that was what I thought. Working in a public library, I see a lot of authors who are constantly on the bestsellers list that I don't believe deserve it. I'm not going to name names, but they're authors who are notorious for using ghost writers, and doing so little work that they just churn out novel after novel, month after month.
I listen to readers who say they're fans of these writers, who say: They're just not that good anymore. But I still have to read them.
I thank my own personal flying spaghetti monster that I don't have to say that. Stephen King is a bestseller for a reason, and he's still as fucking good as he was when he wrote THE SHINING. Better, I'm sure. I'm not skilled enough to judge that. To paraphrase two wise dudes fictionally based in nearby Aurora, Illinois: I'm not worthy.
DOCTOR SLEEP is not only about Dan Torrance and his personal demons, though. We learn some more about the shining through a little girl named Abra who connects with the adult Dan when she's very young, and eventually calls on him to help her with some trouble from a group called The True Knot, who eats the shining out of children.
I wouldn't automatically call DOCTOR SLEEP a horror story. Sometimes it's sad and grim, sometimes it's uncomfortable and gets your paranoia going. Other times are nerve-wracking while you're waiting to see what's going to happen. And oh, the twists got me. I actually stopped reading, stared off in to space, glanced back at the book and declared: "WHAT? NOOOOOO..." before diving back in.
But there's a lot of hope. There's a fight for survival, for a better and happier way of life. I like that.
I wouldn't say it's scary, but while watching Craig Ferguson's LATE LATE SHOW, I realized a better way to describe it. I saw an episode where Anne Rice was a guest, and she and Craig were discussing DOCTOR SLEEP and Stephen King in general. Rice described the book as full of menace, and Craig agreed that that was what King had a knack for in all of his books.
I think that's perfect. DOCTOR SLEEP has menace, a foreboding sense that the world is not as safe as you think it is. That there are people and creatures you can't even fathom who may be hunting you, even now. That's really what gets to you, that gets you to care about Dan and Abra. As they say in THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY:
"You know," said Arthur thoughtfully, "all this explains a lot of things. All my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was."
"No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that."That's why it's effective in DOCTOR SLEEP, because everyone really does wonder if there's something sinister going on in the world that they don't know about.
Overall, two thumbs way up. I love grown-up Danny Torrance, and I love Stephen King. Highly recommended, especially for fans of THE SHINING.