I should have anticipated this disappointment. There is no reason that I should not have seen this coming. I was looking forward to Doctor Sleep for at least a year, and such anticipation never bodes well for the book in question.
We all know that I love Stephen King, which is what makes this so hard for me to say: Doctor Sleep is a terrible, terrible novel that is disrespectful to the previously untarnished memory of its predecessor. That was really verbose, but it needed said.
King starts out strong, which makes the steady decline of the novel only that much worse. He tackles the question of whatever happened to little Danny Torrance from The Shining. Well, he discovered that his terrifying ability could be muted by excessive amounts of alcohol. After years of substance abuse, Danny finally turns himself around when he moves to Frasier, New Hampshire and serendipitously meets an AA regular. Years of happy sobriety pass and Danny has put his “shining” to use at a nursing home, where he is able to help the residents easily pass into the next realm when their time has come. Mind you, up until this point, I had no issues with the novel. Dick Hallorann makes a few appearances, and Danny comes to terms with his amazing skill.
Awesome. And then, just as suddenly, not so awesome. King switches gears and introduces a rambling troop of vampires known as the True Knot. Okay, I guess technically they are not vampires, but they follow the same basic concept, just instead of feeding on blood, they feed on the essence of children with the shining (referred to as “steam”). Enter Abra, a little girl who shines a lot, perhaps even brighter than Danny did. The True Knot is hot on her trail, and only Danny can save her! Gasp!
Let’s start with something positive: I did like the novel’s early reference to Charlie Manx, the antagonist of Joe Hill’s N0S4A2. Hill is Stephen King’s son; the very son that The Shining was dedicated to upon its original publication. We’ve come full circle.
The True Knot ruins this book. I understand that a new element had to be added, but vampires? I’m not sure which direction I expected this book to go in, but that certainly wasn’t it. Moreover, I know I was supposed to like Abra, but I didn’t. I adored Danny as a child in The Shining; he elicited such empathy, and I genuinely cared about his wellbeing. Abra just feels like a cheap knockoff, a generic version of Danny Torrance. Maybe it’s because she is a bit older and more self-aware, whereas Danny was just coming into an understanding of his abilities. Whatever the reason, I did not like her, so I was annoyed that Danny risked his life for her because, in spite of the offensive plot, I still love Danny. Really, it can’t be helped.
There is also the random revelation that Abra’s mother, Lucy, is Danny’s half-sister. This required Danny to postulate that his father’s drunkenness was assuredly linked to an unfaithful marriage. Maybe I’m just being naïve, but Jack’s primary mistress was booze, and he was so dedicated, I doubt he had time for another woman. This one seemed like more of a stretch than the soul-sucking steam-loving vampires.
I try to pretend that Doctor Sleep never happened, but once innocence is lost, it can never be reclaimed. Don’t read this book – don’t make my mistakes. Stop at The Shining and draw your own conclusions regarding Danny’s fate – they are bound to be better than what King dreamt up in this lackluster sequel.