December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Nearly four decades after The Shining, Stephen King's third novel, hit bestseller lists, his constant readers won't have to dust off their copies for a satisfying read from its sequel, Doctor Sleep.
But those who remember the horrors of the ghost-plagued Overlook Hotel and the Torrance family's nightmare with alcoholism, violence and slime-dripping ghouls should be warned: a lot has changed in 36 years.
In his author's note, the insanely popular American novelist explains that he always wondered what happened to little Danny Torrance -- nicknamed "Doc" by his parents -- and what would have happened if his father Jack (infamously played by Jack Nicholson in the Stanley Kubrick film) had had an Alcoholics Anonymous intervention. King's own experience with alcoholism informed the story, as he has discussed in recent interviews.
Well, little Danny became an alcoholic, too. Trying to drown his past and his "shining" -- his psychic gift -- in booze, adult Dan hits rock bottom when he fails to stop a child from being abused. The scene haunts him throughout the novel.
Booze-free after an AA intervention, he becomes known as "Doctor Sleep" at a palliative care hospice because of his strange ability to help people die without fear.
While Dan finds sobriety, Winnebago-driving seniors, really a community of ancient demons called the True Knot, scour the country for children with the shining to torture to death, inhaling their shine as "steam."
They discover a gold mine in Abra Stone, a 12-year-old of immense psychic power. Unaware of her telepathic connection with Dan, they think her easy prey, but get the surprise of their millennial-long lives in a final showdown on the former site of the Overlook.
Apart from some references to The Shining to fill in Dan's history, Doctor Sleep is different. For one thing, King's RV-driving monsters fail to scare -- unless we're used to him after 56 novels.
For example, the True's true faces are no scarier than the stretched mask from the Scream film franchise.
Dialogue between the web-surfing teenaged heroine and her would-be killer, the True's commander in chief, Rose the Hat, is uninspired: "If you run, I'll find you. And when I do, you'll scream for hours before you die."
"I won't run," the girl said. "And we'll see who does the screaming."
Other dialogue drags on indulgently. As with much of King's later works, a common fault here is the lack of an editor's blue pencil.
Doctor Sleep is not so much formulaic as it is part of King's fictional universe. King writes in his 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre that what makes monsters in fiction so fascinating is we know they're not real: the zipper running up the back of the thing from the black lagoon confirms it's just a guy in a rubber suit.
Monsters without that comforting zipper are more terrifying because they are real: alcoholics, child or spouse abusers and highway kidnappers. But in his universe, King can play vigilante and give his heroes magic powers to stop the monsters.
Doctor Sleep follows suit: a west-bound journey culminates in a battle between good and evil, with a flawed hero and a gifted child (think Firestarter and Salem's Lot) working together to defeat these monsters.
Winnipegger Christine Mazur's copy of The Shining is inscribed with "Christmas greetings, from Auntie Kathy." Every page of her copy of Salem's Lot is covered with notes for her master's thesis in English literature.
By Stephen King
Scribner, 531 pages, $35
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A1