DOCTOR SLEEP is all sorts of great things. It is first and foremost the sequel to THE SHINING. To this day, I remember the woman in the bathtub and the sisters in the hallway. Every time I check into a large hotel with interior halls, I expect to see those girls at the very end. That is brilliant writing. There are similar moments in this follow-up, which I’m sure I won’t forget. The book is also a big wet kiss to Alcoholics Anonymous and at times will scare the heck out of you.
The story picks up some three years or so after THE SHINING ends. Danny’s life is not wonderful. The remaining two-thirds of the Torrance family did not win the lottery; they did escape with their lives, but not much else. Danny, though, still has the gift, and the Overlook isn’t quite done with him. The result is that Danny (who becomes Dan as the book jumps forward) is an alcoholic of grand proportion, more likely to die of the Irish fever than of the machinations of a ghostly bartender. Wandering aimlessly and at times running purposefully, Dan gets off the bus in a small town in New Hampshire where he is thrown a lifeline and, with alternating gratitude and reluctance, takes hold of it, attending meetings and doing the steps. He ultimately obtains a job as an orderly in a local hospice, where he uses his “gift” --- his “shine” --- to help ease the passing of those about to die. He acquires a benevolent reputation for what he does (and no one knows quite what he does), and if all isn’t entirely well, it’s not all bad, either.
"Some of King’s best writing to date is found in DOCTOR SLEEP. I’ll never look at an RV on the highway --- or the folks inside --- the same way again."
Meanwhile, two other things are occurring. The first is that Dan is receiving messages of sorts from someone who senses a kindred spirit in him. That somebody is a very young girl named Abra, who lives some 20-odd miles from Dan and whose shine is far greater than Dan’s ever was. The second is that Abra, as she grows older, attracts the unwelcome attention of a group of psychic feeders who call themselves the True Knot. The Knot wanders the country in a loose configuration of campers and RVs, feeding off the psychic misery of what they refer to as the Rubes --- the non-Knots, if you will --- which its members use to sustain themselves physically and otherwise. Young people with the shine are the best source of this, as is demonstrated in a particularly horrific passage (I will never see a baseball glove again without thinking of this book).
As Abra reaches the cusp of adolescence, the True Knot encounters a problem --- one that, deliciously enough, is of its own making --- that might see its resolution through the extremely unwilling participation of Abra. Dan and Abra ultimately join forces, physically and psychically, to combat the True Knot’s plan, but they are up against a group and a leader whose ability to deceive may far exceed their own. The final battleground is a familiar one, as the ultimate face-off is effected, at least in part, by a figure from the past.
Some of King’s best writing to date is found in DOCTOR SLEEP. I’ll never look at an RV on the highway or the folks inside the same way again. There are many clever and wonderful turns of phrase here, as well as a nod to a couple of other literary universes (Joe Hill’s and Linwood Barclay’s, interestingly enough). Those who expect a rehash of THE SHINING will not get it. The book’s claustrophobic setting within a hotel over the course of a few weeks is replaced here with a tale that jumps forward over decades and moves from Colorado to Florida to New Hampshire to...well, I’m not going to tell you that. Read the book and find out.
Oh, and Constant Author? To answer the query posed in your Author’s Note at the end of DOCTOR SLEEP, we’re not just all good. We’re great, and rounding the corner and heading toward terrific. Thank you.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 27, 2013