Book Review: Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’
Stephen King has written a direct sequel to his acclaimed novel “The Shining.” “Doctor Sleep” continues with Danny’s tragic story. Him and his mother Wendy are trying to put the terrifying events behind themselves and lead normal lives.
Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us, Danny is unable to lead a normal life. When Mrs. Massey (who you may remember as the rotting waterlogged granny who nearly strangled Danny in the first book) returns to try and kill Danny, who is living in Florida with his mother, it is clear that he is not out of the woods and never will be.
After being tortured for years by specters, ghouls, and spirits, Danny turns to spirits of a more physical nature. Much like his father, Danny is struggling in the throes of alcoholism when the story begins.
I cannot express how much the beginning of this novel scared me. Reading by lamplight before bed, I became aware of how little light there truly was in the room. My closet and bathroom, harmless during the day, became dens for predators holding out their rotting arms welcoming to my grave. Add in an aging Danny, who is living hand-to-mouth and drink-to-drink, and you have everything I look for in a King novel: a terrifying force and a tragic hero.
Unfortunately, though, the tension, that at the beginning of the novel is wound so tightly that it seems as if at any moment the book will burst from not being able to bare the pressure any longer, a few chapters in, dissipates.
Danny gets sober and the villains (The True Knot) are almost comical in nature. Turning nomadic psychic vampires into a joke should be hard to do; the easiest way to do so would be to put them in RVs and t-shirts that say something along the lines of “I helped trim the world’s largest Christmas tree” and that is exactly what King did.
It could have been a great premise: a pack of monsters snatching up and torturing children as they pretend to be tourists. What we got was cowards hiding behind each other while succumbing to the measles. They were about as scary as the Gremlins in “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.”
Even the showdowns seemed anticlimactic in my opinion. The penultimate clash between the heroes and the True Knot involves an ambush and it is over in seconds; simple gunplay and barely even a hint of psychic powers.
Every member of the True Knot is supposed to have some type of power but for the most part they barely even use them. I just felt like there could have been more to it; there should have been more. There is closure, but there was just not enough resistance in the plot for me to be satisfied.
Perhaps I am just a twisted person, but I was expecting the protagonists to suffer more; I was expecting more people to die from something other than old age.
It was interesting checking in on the characters from “The Shining,” but I can’t help but wonder if King purposefully threw a slow pitch. His writing style is excellent, but the plot just feels weak. I am not sure if he thought Danny had suffered enough, or if he had sales more firmly in mind, but I think the novel would have been better if he had suffered more.
Excluding the beginning of the novel I never had one doubt that the protagonist would triumph. When Danny was resisting with every aspect of his being from buying those bottles of Thunderbird wine I was worried; here was a man who has faced monsters I can barely even visualize and he is brought low by four dollars worth of wine.
After that he throws all the uncertainty and tension out the window. I can understand that King himself had his problems with drugs and alcohol and he most likely would not relish writing about a man falling back into a bender, but it was obvious the whole time that Danny was not going to relapse.
For a major theme it should have seemed like more of a danger.
Since this is Stephen King he will certainly receive no breaks from any critic, but at the end “Doctor Sleep” is an OK novel. I don’t regret reading it but I highly doubt I will ever read it again.
It seems like sequels are always destined to be drastically outshone by the work that came before and this book is stricken with this curse.
If you are looking for something scary to read this month you should look elsewhere, maybe “NOS4A2” by King’s son Joe Hill, because if you choose
“Doctor Sleep” the fear will vanish well before October is even over.
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