Review: Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep is Stephen King’s long awaited sequel to his famous 1977 novel The Shining. Published 36 years after its predecessor, Doctor Sleep picks up on the story of Danny Torrance who, now an adult, remains psychologically traumatized by the events that took place during The Shining.
The return to Danny’s story is not only a return to one of King’s earlier works (the Shining being only his third book published) but a return to his earlier style of writing as well. Doctor Sleep sees King’s return to the horror genre after a five-year hiatus writing mystery and historical fiction novels. Sleep also finds Danny, now going by Dan, traveling to a small New England town, a location often written about by King early in his career. The combination of a return to the horror genre, the universe of The Shining, and to a New England setting lend a certain nostalgic effect to the novel throughout.
Taking place around September 11th, 2001, Dan finds himself wandering New England combating alcoholism which he has inherited from his father, Jack Torrence, of Shining fame. Eventually settling in the New Hampshire town of Frazier, Dan begins attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working for a local hospice, with the intent to clean up his life and not wind up like his father. Dan’s psychic abilities begin to resurface as his sobriety grows stronger, and he begins a telepathic connection with a small girl, Abra, who also has the shining ability.
Of course, no New England set Stephen King novel would be complete without a group of villainous vampires à la Salem’s Lot. While Dan is developing his relationship with Abra, a gang of vampire-esque immortals, called the True Knot, are traveling the US feeding off “steam” – an energy produced by those with the shining ability. Eventually, Abra gets tangled up with the True Knot by accidentally psychically witnessing a murder by the group, and Dan is left with the task of defending Abra.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is a very strong novel from King after a lengthy break from the horror genre, with lots of twists, turns, and an atmosphere throughout the novel that will make you leave a night light on when you go to sleep. There are a few hiccups that detract from the story, including an unnecessary sub-plot where the True Knot contract measles. Not only that, but there are a few convoluted developments within the plot that reduce the value not only of Sleep but of the Shining as well, such as the wholly disposable moment where Dan learns that Abra’s mother is actually his half-sister via their father, Jack Torrence.
Despite these momentary lapses, Sleep features copious other references to Jack and Wendy Torrence,the Overlook Hotel, and other call-backs to the Shining that are very welcome after such a long time. Not only do they add to the brooding atmosphere over the novel, conjuring up uneasy feelings in those who have read the Shining before, but King uses the references to bring home wonderful characterization of the Torrence family and the ghosts that haunt Dan, Jack, and his father before him.
There are no cheap thrills in Sleep, Stephen King is in full force throughout, showing readers why he is considered a master of his craft page after page, a claustrophobic experience is delivered that will leave readers anxiously checking over their shoulders for the True Knot.  While certainly catering to those who have been waiting nearly forty years for a Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep stands very strongly on its own two feet and should not scare away first-time readers of King’s work. With all the horror trappings one would expect from King’s return to his iconic universe, the novel does not disappoint and will have readers turning every page with sweaty palms and trembling fingers. Sleep takes an established universe and adds in just the right amount of new and memorable characters, surreal locations and events, and old fashioned Stephen King-frights to create a masterpiece that stands among his best work.

Doctor Sleep

Stephen King

531 pages. Scribner. $13.60.



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