Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

drsleepOn highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

The book starts with Danny, aged 8, in Florida, with his mother, still dealing with the aftermath of his time at the Overlook hotel. He still gets visited by some of the dead from the hotel – his father thankfully not being one of them – and is taught by Dick Hallorann (the guy who taught him about The Shining and who ultimately helped rescue him) how to compartmentalise these visitations.

Andi Steiner – a 32 year old who spent 8 years being raped by her step father – has the ability to make people fall asleep. She uses this to survive, and is found by The True Knot, stealing from an older man in a cinema, and who then bring her into their group. They survive by torturing and killing children with the Shining, extracting the power the torture releases.

We catch up with Danny,  intermittently over the next 20 or 30 years, with Danny hitting rock bottom and fearing that he’s turning into his drunken, violent father, until he finds someone willing to give him a chance and be his AA Sponsor.  He gets a job in a nursing home, where he becomes the handyman and an unofficial medico, and generally ends up sitting up with the old patients as they breathe their last.

Meanwhile he becomes aware of a young child called Abra, who has a stunning Shining talent from the moment she is born (she predicts 9/11 on the day she is born by screaming her lungs out).

The True Knot become aware of her too, when they become aware of her during a torture session. We are introduced to a number of the group’s members and how they go around their business, some being down right creepy.

As usual with a King book, the first section of the book (it is split into 4 parts) is all about set up.  The three main story lines are interwoven with each other as we see Danny, The True Knot, and Abra, first of all from the viewpoint of her family and then by herself. Small things happen, all in themselves innocuous, but you know that they will all lead to something.

The rest of the book builds up to several crises – Abra and Danny manage to get in touch, and their meetings reflect the worst people can imagine when an older man meets a younger girl, so all must be done in public. Danny pulls in some of his friends, including the doctor who treated Abra when she was born. Abra gets so far, but finally relents that her family have to be involved – she doesnt want to, as she is still a 13 year old, and her mother is having to deal with the terminal illness of her mother (Abra’s grandmother)

The True Knot suffer some casualties, both on a case by case basis, and in a group effort, as a posse are sent to capture Abra, without realising she has help of the people around her. This leads to a showdown between Abra (with Danny) and Rose on the grounds of what used to be the Overlook Hotel (that Danny’s father so famously burnt down after being haunted by the spirits of the place in The Shining). It is Danny’s time spent with the dying which allows him to pull a trick out of the bag to allow Abra to overcome the fight between the older and stronger woman.

This is a story of the lonely and friendless coming together to become friends, in order to fight a group of people who ultimately become alone in the world. King shows his strength in the small details – Rose’s hat for instance, how it sits jauntily on her head no matter what, and how its image elsewhere leaves an impression of where her spirit has been.

It has been a while since I read a King novel – I stopped reading around the time The Regulators came out first time. I found this to be a light read, and reminded me of King at his best.

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