- Created on Thursday, 13 March 2014 00:58
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By SHEILA PRITCHARD
Stephen King has admitted his dilemma in following up a book as terrifying as The Shining: “Nothing can live up to the memory of a good scare.”
So what does this mean for the much-anticipated sequel to his popular 1977 novel?
Doctor Sleep, King’s return to the characters and territory of one of his most famous works ever, does lack the scares of its predecessor but is a riveting page-turner nonetheless.
In this instantly engrossing novel, readers are drawn into the world of the now middle-aged Dan Torrance, the protagonist in The Shining, and a very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous “psychic vampires”.
Darren Carraro, 30, of Niagara Falls, says he read The Shining in high school and is a fan of both the book and the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of the same name, but was unaware of King’s follow-up novel from last year.
“A sequel, huh? I didn’t feel much for Danny when I was going through The Shining since it was [his father] Jack Torrance who pretty much had me by the balls the whole time, but it could be interesting to know how the story has developed since the Overlook Hotel. And, I guess this being a Stephen King book, I can give it a try.”
After an adeptly compressed prologue recap of The Shining, we discover that Dan, now all grown up, has become an alcoholic and a drifter who steals from women he sleeps with and repeatedly gets into bar fights. Still haunted by the ghostly inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific year of his childhood, Dan has been wandering for decades and is desperate to shed his father’s legacy of misery, alcoholism and violence. After hitting rock bottom, Dan finally settles in a New Hampshire town, where an AA community sustains his sobriety. Now in recovery and working as a hospice, his supernatural talents, long suppressed by the drink, now enable Dan to help people die peacefully. Aided by a clairvoyant cat, he becomes known as “Doctor Sleep.”
Meanwhile, Dan starts to receive telepathic messages from a young girl named Abra Stone, whose “shining” and psychic abilities are much stronger than his. When the girl, whose gifts include telekinesis, reaches the age of 13, it is discovered she is on the menu for a voraciously hungry group of very wicked people.
The wicked people are the True Knot, a gang roaming the highways of America in motorhomes on a mission to torture child psychics to death so they can eat their shining — or “steam” as they call it. The steam of children is the group’s only nourishment. They look harmless, but the True Knot are quasi-immortal, living for centuries off the steam children with the shining produced when they are slowly tortured to death. When Dan meets the ephemeral Abra, it is her remarkable gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and beckons him to a battle for Abra’s survival.
If you are looking for a direct sequel to The Shining, recapturing the same psychologically suffocating terror as the original, you will be disappointed.
The True Knot is one of the areas where this book falls short of what it could have been. Too much time is spent inside the villains’ heads, and they simply aren’t very frightening. An early torture scene of a young boy serves more to connect plot lines than as an unadulterated experience of gore and fear. King does try to go for scares at times, but he comes nowhere close to delivering the chills of the first book.
If, however, you are looking for the next story in Danny Torrance’s life then you will likely find this satisfying. Where the novel lacks in brute fright, it makes up for with more refined pleasures, such as the scenes where Dan helps elderly residents pass over to death at the nursing home. The patients’ final moments are supernaturally melancholic, yet beautiful.
“Being a big fan of Stephen King, especially his early work, I’ve been waiting with nervous anticipation to read Doctor Sleep,” says Anna Stringer, 22, of Welland. Stringer hasn’t read Doctor Sleep yet but is looking forward to getting her copy soon.
“I know it’s more focused on Danny, so I’m rereading The Shining on my Kindle right now to reacquaint myself with him before I dive into it [Doctor Sleep] – it is kind of neat and exciting because Stephen King hardly does sequels.”
King also shows he is a master of characterization throughout the novel by evoking a genuinely sympathetic feel for Dan. On the other hand, King may have overdeveloped some villains to the point they became antagonists who just don’t inspire much fear.
As a horror book, Doctor Sleep is not all that effective. As an epic war between good and evil, layered with captivating characters possessing psychic powers, it is a story that succeeds in many ways.
“I knew it would be epic, either as a success or a failure. I was pulling for success, of course — Stephen King is the man,” says computer engineering student Rob Strazzeri, who bought Doctor Sleep a day after its release.
“I absolutely do recommend this book, but you have to take it on its own merits.”