Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.

Stephen King brings these things upon himself.

It isn’t fair to compare his latest novel, Doctor Sleep, with his landmark work, The Shining. But comparisons are inevitable — Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining.

Critics will rightfully say, “Doctor Sleep is okay, but it isn’t as good as The Shining.” But how could it be? The Shining is a classic (its status doubly bolstered by Stanley’s Kubrick’s equally iconic film adaptation.) The Shining has enjoyed four decades of popularity, accolades, and analysis. Fanboys like me grew up with The Shining as a culture touchstone, a literary benchmark against which all other horror novels were judged.

So King is practically begging for bad reviews for Doctor Sleep. It’s impossible to fill The Shining’s big shoes. Fortunately, King doesn’t even try, allowing Doctor Sleep to take its own path into new literary territories.

Doctor Sleep finds Danny Torrance all grown up, and suffering from the same alcoholism that plagued his father. It’s a subject King seems to know intimately, and the novel’s most authentic moments unfold when Danny Torrance views the world through a 12-stepper’s hardened-yet-knowing gaze.

There are plenty of fumbles in Doctor Sleep. Female hero Abra is inconsistent; wise beyond her years one moment, and inexplicably innocent the next. There’s a family revelation late in the novel that’s hollow and cringe inducing, along with several Freaky Friday -style body swaps that are equally douche-chilly.

Room 217 lady
Bathtub babe is back, and still partying naked in Doctor Sleep.

That doesn’t mean Doctor Sleep is a bad novel, or an unsatisfying read. It’s nice seeing Danny shine again. Tony reprises his role as psychic messenger, and there are sweet cameos by Dick Hallorann, and the ghoulish ghost from Room 217.  Doctor Sleep is well paced, Rose The Hat is a badass villain, and everything wraps up neatly enough.

Doctor Sleep is okay, but it isn’t as good as The Shining.


The Shining by Stephen King

I re-read Stephen King’s The Shining recently in preparation for the release of its sequel, Doctor Sleep. I’m glad I did.

The Shining by Stephen King
The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining is a beautifully written novel, simple, elegant, and powerful. There are only four main characters: Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy, his son Danny, and the Overlook Hotel itself.

At its core, The Shining is an update of the classic “trapped in a haunted house” tale. It’s also the story of a family coming apart at the seams, strained relationships blowing up like the ancient boiler in the basement of the Overlook.

Jack and Wendy are clearly drawn, easily identifiable, sympathetic characters. Danny, with his ability to shine, propels the story forward. His psychic abilities awaken the hotel’s wicked past, and the Overlook preys on the weakest link — recovering alcoholic Jack.

Stanley Kubrick turned The Shining into an iconic film (which King himself hated). While Kubrick’s film is a classic, don’t forget it was Big Daddy Steve who created this nightmare in the first place. King was the one who created such memorable lines as, “I’m going to bash your brains in, Wendy. I’m going to bash them right the fuck in,” and, “Your wife and son need correction, if I may be so bold, sir.”  All this and Redrum, too. And don’t forget the wicked witch in Room 217.

I read The Shining for the first time in 1980 when I was 12 years old. This book has lost none of its impact over the past three decades. It’s still a magnificent artistic achievement.