When I heard that Stephen King was writing a sequel to what I consider one of his best novels The Shining, I was both eager and hesitant to pick it up. Part of me was eager to see where King would take the characters from the world of the Overlook Hotel in the sequel and hesitant because of the track record of other authors with “long awaited” sequels.
The good news is that Doctor Sleep is a worthy and successful sequel to The Shining on just about every level. And I think it’s a good thing that King wrote it thirty or so years after the original hit our shelves.
Picking up right where The Shining left off, Doctor Sleep chronicles Dan’s attempts to not become his father’s son. Dan reaches rock bottom when he steals the last $70 from his single-mother, one-night-stand’s purse, after blowing his entire paycheck on drugs and booze the night before. The incident haunts Dan throughout the novel and serves as a motivation to change and help others. He does this working in hospices, using his power to see dying people through their final moments of life and when he becomes aware of another young person who shares his unique ability.
That is Abra, a young girl who may be even stronger in her power than Danny was and is. Her abilities confound her parents as well as making her a bit of an outcast. In addition, it brings her onto the radar of a nomadic group of people who feed on “the steam” of young people with psychic abilities. To the group, Abra is like a buffet of extended-life and health-benefits for them and they’re eager to find her to not only feed now, but to stock up for a long time to come.
King spends the first half of the novel putting introducing the characters and plot threads before he begins to pull out all the stops in the second half. The novel feels like a train, building up speed slowly before racing to its ultimate, page-turning finish. And yet at over five-hundred pages, Doctor Sleep never feels like its overstaying its welcome or treading water. In fact, had it gone another hundred or so pages, I would have been perfectly content to keep on reading and spending time with these characters.
It’s a testament to King’s second-half career renaissance that he can pull off not only a book this good, but a sequel that works this well. He may have taken close to thirty year to write the novel, but I’m glad he had that time to hone his craft and to really decide if a sequel was necessary and would add to his original novel.
King also manages to throw in a bit of a shout-out to his son Joe Hill’s latest novel NOS4A2 in the early goings of the novel. And while I didn’t catch a shout-out to his daugher-in-law Kelly Braffet’s brilliant novel, Save Yourself (review coming soon but do yourself a favor and pick up a copy immediately), I wouldn’t be shocked it there was one in there as well. It even contains a bit of a homage to King’s recent Hardcase Crime entry Joyland.
Of course, the big question that most fans will be wondering is — is this novel a worthy sequel to The Shining?
The short answer is, yes, absolutely.
The Shining was the story of one man’s alcohol-fueled descent into madness. Doctor Sleep is (partially) the story of the impact those events had one on man and how he deals with it over the course of the next thirty years. Dan Torrance, for good and bad, is his father’s son. And while Dan doesn’t do something quite as viscerally repulsive as Jack breaking young Danny’s arm in a fit of rage, his low point of taking the cash and his internal justification for doing so show him to be just the kind of guy his dad was. Dan’s struggle his addictions and his power throughout his life inform a large portion of the novel and the choices made. It’s a fascinating character study by King and, in many ways, that sets this novel at or near the same level as The Shining.
But Doctor Sleep is also competing with my fond memories of reading the original and being absolutely glued to every page. It’s hard to recall that much of The Shining is a slow burn, building up to the pulse-pounding climax. It’s easy to remember the horrific nature of Jack Torrance’s chasing his wife and son through the hotel and not recall everything King did to build up to that point.
Doctor Sleep starts on a slow burn as well and builds to a pulse-pounding finale. But the seeds King sews about his characters make the first half just as memorable as the second — at least in my short term memory. It will be interesting to see how in the months and years to come what I remember from this novel as compared to the original.
In the end, Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor to The Shining and another triumph for Stephen King. If you haven’t read the original, I can’t recommend it enough. And then give this one a try. It’s a very different reading experience but one that is just as satisfying.