By Heidi Simmons
Doctor Sleep
By Stephen King

Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining may be one of his most significant and popular novels. Although different, Stanley Kubrick’s film version propelled the story into cinematic history. Thirty-six years later, King has written with Doctor Sleep a sequel (Scribner, 544 pages), which can easily be enjoyed without reading The Shining first.

The story opens with a boy, Danny Torrance, who is suffering post-traumatic stress after a horrifying event killed his father and destroyed a famous Colorado hotel. He and his mother struggle to put the terrifying events behind them. Danny has an extrasensory gift – called the shining — where he can hear and see things others cannot. With the help of an old friend, Mr. Halloran, Danny learns to control his “shine” and “store” the ghosts that haunt him.

With a big jump in time, Danny is now a troubled man who must battle his demons. This works on more than one level in this King story. Dan is an alcoholic who has hit bottom and is struggling to find a place to live and function sober and without drama. Now nearly 40, Dan finds a job at a hospice where he becomes known as Doctor Sleep. He is able to calm people before death and help them “cross over.” Dan goes to Alcoholics Anonymous and finds a supportive community and friends.

Through his “gift,” he meets Abra, a young girl, 13, who has reached out to Dan with her uber shining abilities. The two connect mentally and eventually meet. Abra is being hunted by an ancient group of “shine sucking” vampires called the True Knot. The True, as they refer to themselves, travel the country in luxury RVs preying on young children and storing their shine mist, which they call “steam.”

The True is desperately running low on life-sustaining steam. In addition to their troubles, they killed a boy who carried measles and they have become ill with no way to fight it. The True believes Abra’s steam –- she being the strongest carrier they’ve ever encountered – will not only restore them for years to come but cure them from the deadly childhood disease.

Abra, Dan and a few of his friends hatch a plan to stop these horrible creatures with Abra as bait. The showdown takes place at the location of the former Colorado hotel where Danny and his mother barely escaped with their lives decades before.

The True Knot are a horrifying group of nomadic vampires. They are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of missing children. They blend in with society and have been getting away with torture and murder for centuries. They are a terrifying hodgepodge of killers with extraordinary abilities that make them dangerous and strong. But Abra, with Dan’s help, is stronger.

Doctor Sleep, as a sequel to The Shining, is not great. There are just too many questions left unanswered about Dan, his mother and father (Jack Torrance). When we meet Danny in Florida, he is the same boy coping with his nightmares, but we don’t get any more of his life until he is a terrible, homeless, adult drunk.

However, Abra’s story is told from birth. So the reader gets some insight what it must have been like for Danny living with the shining. Abra is being raised by sensitive, modern parents who do all they can to help their small child cope with her bizarre outbursts and strange behavior, which they do not understand. Abra knows her special gifts scare her folks, so Abra keeps her ability to herself as she becomes a teen.

Danny’s parents were also concerned and afraid of his gift, but didn’t have the tools or the resources to help their son. I think it’s fair to say that in The Shining, Danny and his “gift” became a central problem and may have been directly responsible for the destruction of his family. Something King never really addresses in Doctor Sleep.

Too many elements are missing or fail to work, to make Doctor Sleep a successful sequel. King attempts to tie the True Knot to the Colorado hotel, but it is just to convoluted to make perfect sense. Dan discovers he is Abra’s uncle. This too seems an unnecessary coincidence that doesn’t have to be in the story for the two shining characters to connect. Doctor Sleep does not answer questions that remain from The Shining. Further, the events of the prequel do not really enhance the Doctor Sleep plot.

The Shining took place in a familiar world not unlike our own. The Torrances lived in a haunted hotel that destroyed them for reasons that are mostly ambiguous – which is great. Doctor Sleep makes but a small effort to explore the connection between Danny, his ability, his family and the hotel.

The True Knot are scary and deadly and inhabit a supernatural world that is beyond the familiar setting of The Shining. King does not bring these two worlds together to make Doctor Sleep a satisfying sequel.

As a stand-alone story, Doctor Sleep takes familiar characters and their strange gifts and constructs an intense battle where they must confront a ferocious evil to the best of their abilities. And that part of the story really works. Doctor Sleep may not be a great follow-up, but is remains a fun, stand-alone read.

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