Monday, October 21, 2013

Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

4 stars

One-line review: Ghastly ghosts and a Good Old Western Shootout

Review: (minor spoilers)
One of the most anticipated sequels in recent times, Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep", a sequel to "The Shining" thirty years in the making, is one good yarn - better if read on its own merits. If compared with the iconic "The Shining", it will fall short. This one does not match the sheer claustrophobic terror of the original.
"I ain't got any relatives. Unless you count the ex, and if I was on fire she wouldn't piss on me to put me out” 
Dan Torrance, the boy with the double-edged gift of the "shining" - that allowed him to look into people's minds as well as into the future, though somewhat hazily, had escaped from the Overlook Hotel with his mother, and with help from the Overlook's chef, Dick (Richard) Hallorann.
More than twenty years later, Dan had turned out to be what he had never wanted to become - a peripatetic and a near-confirmed alcoholic, one short step away from the abyss from which he knew he could never return. After yet another episode of drinking, he gets on a bus and finds his way to a small town named Frazier, where he decides to stay a while, tending to Teenytown Railway - the the small town's miniature train - during its summer tourist season, and working at the local hospice otherwise. At the hospice he becomes known as Doctor Sleep, for his ability to ease the last moments of the terminally ill. At around the same time that Dan moves to the town, in a nearby town, Abby is born, a few months before Sep 11 2001. It seems that little Abra has the gift of the shining - a super strong power, in much the same manner as Dan Torrance, perhaps stronger. To complete the triangle, there is the True Knot, a roving band of people, always on the move in their RV trailers, never staying in one place for long, and, unknown to others, human at one point in time, but now humanoid vampires. They live on the "steam" of the young - the young who also happen to have the "shining". A prolonged, painful death of these "shining" youth "purifies" the steam, and the potency of the "steam" is the elixir of life for the True Knot. Abra, by the time she is about to enter her teenage years, catches the attention of the leader of this gang - Rose, and from there on it is a battle between Rose, Dan, and Abra.

Going by some of Stephen King's other novels, like "The Stand", "It", and "Under The Dome" - all of which clocked in at near or over a thousand pages, this one is practically emaciated by comparison - less than six hundred pages. The plot moves at a fast clip, and with none of the detours that mark some of his longer novels. King's mastery over plot and pacing are ever evident here. The first hundred odd pages stand out for their ability to make your skin crawl on the one hand, and the painfully vivid portrayal of Dan Torrance's encounter with his personal, alcoholic abyss on the other. King seems to be drawing on a tortured well of personal experiences here.

There is also a very "The Sixth Sense" scene at the beginning that in some ways is even more creepy than young Cole's night-time encounter in the movie.
"He woke up needing to pee. Outside, a strong wind was blowing. It was warm -- in Florida it almost always was -- but he did not like that sound, and supposed he never would. It reminded him of the Overlook, where the defective boiler had been the very least of the dangers. ... Danny left the little room next to his mother’s and crossed the hall. The wind gusted and a dying palm tree beside the building clattered its leaves. The sound was skeletal. They always left the bathroom door open when no one was using the shower or the toilet, because the lock was broken. Tonight the door was closed."
Almost every Stephen King novel I have read has its share of memorable quotes. If "The Shining" had an impossibly vivid line like, "Hallorann's testicles turned into two small wrinkled sacs filled with shaved ice", Doctor Sleep has a somewhat more commonplace one-liner like, "I ain't got any relatives. Unless you count the ex, and if I was on fire she wouldn't piss on me to put me out” - which still brings a guffaw.

King is however, unable to carry on at that level, and the remainder of the book is replete with metaphorically the kitchen sink thrown in by way of plot hooks - a sign of King's tentativeness perhaps and his need to make this a worthy sequel. Several throwbacks to The Shining are present in, but seem forced for the most part, including a somewhat hackneyed revelation of a filial link between two characters, a quasi-resurrection of dead characters, and a good, old Western style spectral shootout at the site of the Overlook hotel.

"Doctor Sleep" is a satisfying and fast-paced read, but falls short when compared and contrasted with "The Shining". Copious references and somewhat contrived plot hooks to the "The Shining" don't help.

Book details and Other Info:
Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (September 24, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1476727651
ISBN-13: 978-1476727653, 9781444761191, 9781444761160
Stephen King web site
Book web site

Buying Info:
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Kindle Excerpt:

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.