Arts and Entertainment Editor
In 1974, Stephen King was in need of a change. His first two novels, “Carrie,” and “Salem’s Lot,” both took place in small towns located in his home state of Maine. A step out of the comfort zone was in store, so King packed up his bags, taking his wife and children to visit a place called the Stanley Hotel in Boulder, Colorado. Nearing its off-season, the hotel was practically deserted, its halls empty, but for an unusual history – the Stanley was allegedly haunted, said its workers.
King awoke one morning on his stay, lighting up a cigarette and gazing out into the nearby mountains. By the end of that drag, King had formulated the bones of what would become “The Shining” – a roaring success of a novel, published in 1977 and adapted into the classic film directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s a story recalled in those haunted halls of the Stanley Hotel – renamed the Overlook – that would drive troubled alcoholic writer, Jack Torrence, into insanity.
Taking an opportunity to be the winter caretaker for the Overlook, Torrence tried to find solitude and focus for his writing. Just like King, the fictitious Torrence struggled with alcoholism and was at one point a teacher, a writer and a family man, which included his young son. But unlike King’s real son, Owen, the young Danny Torrence had a strange power. He had a “shining” telepathy that acted as a defense mechanism to the macabre spirits that laid siege to the Torrence family at the haunted hotel. After the destruction of the Overlook, and Jack Torrence, in an unnatural winter fire, Danny and his mother kept running, running, running. Thirty years later, we finally find out what became of the fatherless telepathic boy, the ghosts of the Overlook and their supernatural world.
“Doctor Sleep” is a vastly expanded telepathic world. Moving from the direct years after the destruction of the Overlook, through the ‘90s and to the current day, the novel is very smartly structured. The first chunk of “Doctor Sleep” is filled with a lot of exposition, dealing with Dan’s struggle and overcoming of alcoholism – something he has used to drown out the ghosts of the Overlook that still make an appearance from time to time – and revealing the agenda of a dangerous group of psychic vampires called the True Knot.
The True Knot are led by a beautiful but very dangerous woman named Rose the Hat — aptly named for a top hat she wears at an unnatural angle on her head. The group feeds on the life energy of “shining” children. They have set their eyes on a very powerful young girl named Abra Stone, who eventually psychically reaches out to the now middle-aged Dan for help. The striking thing about the character development in “Doctor Sleep” is how gradual and comfortable it is. Unlike “The Shining” which was practically an isolated incident, King guides us through the maturity of his characters and takes them across both country and time, making the novel feel like an epic adventure.
We see Dan join Alcoholics Anonymous after hitting rock bottom. We see him find work at a New Hampshire hospice, helping the elderly into the afterlife with his powers and developing the titular nickname, “Doctor Sleep.” At the same time, we grow up with Abra. At a few months old, Abra projects early images of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks into her parents’ dreams. A few years later, there is a very strange incident involving levitating spoons. Years after that, Abra sees the death of a young telepath in the Midwest at the hands of the True Knot, setting off a dangerous chain of events. When the bulk of the novel begins, Abra is firmly set at 13 years old, while Dan is around 40. But her youth is rather deceiving, especially for people like Rose the Hat, who at first underestimate her. Abra is very, very determined to stop the reign of the True and – with the help of Dan and a few others – follows through in a thrilling journey of self discovery and telepathic warfare. One heartwarming scene depicts Abra’s full-on realization that she is not alone in her power. Sending humorous psychic images back and forth as they sit at a bench and discuss their plan to take down the True once and for all, Dan gives Abra a name for her power: shining.
As usual, King adds a witty tang into his writing. It is as if there is an aftertaste to the words, making use of the short, quippy inner thoughts of his characters and referencing popular cultural in a semi- satirical manner. The use of cultural context consistently finds its way into King’s novels, helping to ease the reader into a reality that can be shaken and twisted. A sense of normality later reveals a shady underbelly of vampires, telepaths, ghosts, and sinister forces. At 66 years old, King is not slowing down. He’s very much a man in and of the times, who sure as hell knows how to soak in the world around him and let it flow into his work.
“Doctor Sleep” was released on Sept. 24 through Scribner Publishing. The novel is over 500 pages, but is a very quick read with its thrilling pace. It is available at a bookseller near you at the hardcover price of $30, as well as online and for tablet devices. If you have some spare time between classes and liked “The Shining” or enjoy a good book on the supernatural, “Doctor Sleep” comes highly recommended.