Whether referencing the novel of the Kubrick adaptation, The Shining has endured for more than three decades as one of Stephen King’s most terrifying and beloved works. When he first announced he planned a sequel that followed the life of Danny Torrance, the young boy with the gift of “the shining” King was met with fan reaction that contained both a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Luckily for fans Dr. Sleep is not only a fantastic read, it is arguably King’s best work since It.
Dr. Sleep begins with a brief trip through Dan Torrance’s younger years where he learns from old friend Dick Halloran how to contain the undead visions that continue to torment him until we meet Dan again as a young man. Unfortunately for Torrance, the same bottle shaped demon that plauged the father haunts the son. Years spent chasing his demons at the bottom of a glass lead Dan to take on a nomadic existence, taking menial jobs and getting into bar fights before moving on to the next podunk town. After a one night stand has Dan hitting rock bottom, he finds himself stepping of a Greyhound bus into a sleepy New Hampshire town, where a chance encounter with the elderly Billy leads to Torrance’s last shot at redemption.
In interviews King stated he was always curious what Jack Torrance’s fate would have been had he discovered AA rather than attempting to dry out during his spell as the Overlook’s caretaker. Dr. Sleep is the answer to that question as the novel follows Dan through his many year trip through sobriety which eventually leads him to his role as a hospice orderly. It’s here that the staff gives Dan the nickname Dr. Sleep, due to his knack for helping patients find peace and comfort in their lasts breaths in this world before heading to the other side.
It’s also here that Dan establishes a psychic connection with Abra, a girl whose own “shine” dwarfs Dan. As a weeks old infant she foresaw 9/11. As she grows older she can play the Beatles on the piano-even when she’s sleeping a floor above the instrument. Most importantly, she senses Dan a few towns over and begins leaving him messages on his blackboard.
It’s a good thing the two find one another, as King sets up a fantastic set of villains in the form of the True Knot. This centuries old clan roams the country in the guise of middle aged and elderly RV enthusiasts, never earning a suspicious glance from anyone they encounter. In reality, they are “psychic vampires” and the feed on what they call “steam”-the energy that children who have the gift of the shining exude when they are frightened, or are in pain, or, when they encounter the True Knot, when they are being tortured and killed. When Rose, the leader of the True Knot, learns of Abra’s existence, she senses a steam so rich and powerful it could sustain the clan for years to come. They will stop at nothing to get her.
Whether King intended it or not the choice of depicting the True Know as elderly or upper middle age while feating on children is an apt analogy. At a time where today’s youths have been handed a mess to clean up by the previous generations in the form of banking catastrophes, economic peril, climate peril and a generation of entitled Boomers that refuse to accept responsibility for their misdeeds, the thought of a bloodthirsty group of innocuous looking retirees feasting on the young serves as a ripe indictment of modern times.
In Dr. Sleep, King continues to do what he has always excelled in by building relatable characters confronted by extraordinary circumstances. Those who often find themselves frustrated by King’s reliance on deus ex machina endings will be happy to know Dr. Sleep contains clear cut good guys and bad guys engaging in an epic final confrontation which comes full circle on the original novel. While it does not contain the abundance of scares of The Shining, Dr. Sleep is a fast paced and assured read from the master of modern horror.