True story: when my husband and I were dating, I was leaving his apartment one night and he handed me a Stephen King book I had never read before. “It’s really good,” he said, “but promise me you won’t start it tonight. It’s too scary to read late at night for someone like you.” I sniffed, tossed my head back, and proceeded to go home and crack open The Shining. A few hours later, in the early morning, I called and said something along the lines of why did you let me read this book OMG this book is so good and frightening and sad and good but now I’m so scared and all alone in my apartment! So when I read that King was working on a sequel to The Shining, I knew I had to get it.
That sequel is Doctor Sleep: A Novel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough if you are a King fan (or even if you aren’t yet). We meet Dan Torrance again when he’s all grown up but is still haunted by many fears and demons, the most potent of which are inside himself. Dan still has “the shining,” and the memories of his father’s murderous rage inside the Overlook Hotel, but part of what is so powerful about Doctor Sleep is the that real nightmare Dan wrestles with is not supernatural, but more emotional and intellectual. Like his father, Dan is an alcoholic, and it’s this addiction that really wrecks his life, making him question his worth as a person and overshadowing his memories of both his parents as well as his childhood. King does a wonderful job here of showing this struggle, and it’s the emotional backbone of the book, just as Jack Torrance’s struggle to be a good father and husband despite his flaws and inadequacies are also at the heart of The Shining. Can we ever be as good as we want to be to the people we love? The inevitable failure to measure up and what that means is the real nightmare and tragedy at the heart of both books.
Of course, there’s thrills and chills along the way, but as in much of his best work, what King does here is make us better understand our own dilemmas and heartaches, which often have nothing to do with what goes bump in the night and everything to do with the standards we set for ourselves in the world of adulthood and how much we fear we’ll fail to meet them, even when the stakes are highest and our children are watching. In the landscape of a Stephen King novel, good can triumph over evil and often does, but it’s our own flawed human nature that is sometimes the most frightening of all.
- Review : Doctor Sleep / Stephen King (tararualibrary.wordpress.com)
- Prose & Conversation: ‘The Shining’ and ‘Doctor Sleep’ (litreactor.com)
- Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” challenges and success (examiner.com)