To tell the truth, no librarian should have favorite books. There are too many out there to read, too many different circumstances under which to read them, too many ages at which to discover that a book you hated now speaks to you or one you loved falls flat. Under theoretical laboratory conditions, though, I might have to admit that I do have favorites, and that several of them are by Stephen King. The Stand. Salem’s Lot. Christine. The Green Mile. The Dead Zone. Night Shift. And, of course, The Shining. I still remember sitting by a pool in 95-degree weather and shivering as a snowstorm sealed me into the Overlook Hotel with the Torrance family and the reanimated dead.
Now King has returned to continue Danny Torrance’s story in Doctor Sleep. (And if you haven’t read The Shining, forget this review and go get that book. Seriously.) Of course, time has passed and Danny, now Dan, is all grown up. But the combined burdens of his childhood, his family’s history of drinking, and his dubious gift have left him a place no reader would have wanted to see the tow-headed little boy.
Dan is a drunk. A drifter, a brawler, sleeping with strangers who promise another high, or in a culvert if he has to choose between the price of a bottle and a bed. A full-blown alcoholic who hits his personal bottom early in the story, he spends the course of the novel running from his shame.
The thing is, Dan still has his shine, that ability to glimpse things that were or that are or that will be. It helps him reach in and hold the essential part of other people, and gives him extraordinary empathy. When he can hold down a job. But that same empathy gives him haunting visions that he cannot evade. This time, the shine guides him to a small town in New Hampshire, where he thinks he might be able to start again. Through the good graces of another person with just a little bit of the shine, and with the help of a hard-ass AA sponsor, Dan Torrance quits drinking. He also goes to work at the local hospice, where he and the resident cat comfort the dying and guide them to the threshold of whatever lies beyond.
But there are other special people out there in the world, and Dan becomes a sort of unwilling fulcrum between them. On one side is Abra, a young teenaged girl who out-shines Dan like a lighthouse outshines a flashlight; on the other, the True Knot, a band of psychic vampires who live on the pain and fear of children. Led by the horrific Rose the Hat (and like all subcultures, the Knot has insider names and public names), the Knot travels in a caravan of campers seeking out fresh victims. During their time off the road, they lie up in a charming Colorado campsite with a plaque that designates it as the site of the now-destroyed Overlook Hotel. When the True Knot detects Abra’s ability, they know that they could feed on her for decades, if they can seize and control her. Dan Torrance must pit his lesser abilities and Abra’s immature skills against Rose’s blind greed and power to save the girl and destroy the Knot. If he can survive the place of his own fears.
Like the best of King’s fiction, Doctor Sleep excels at framing the relationships between imperfect people drawn together to face an impossibly evil power. Sometimes those relationships are deep bonds: parent and child, teacher and student. Sometimes they are forged in hellish fires, as Dan discovers through his AA sponsors and supporters. And sometimes they erupt from the unlikeliest of sources to create the possibility of redemption. Maybe that’s the real reason I shouldn’t have favorite books: too many unlikely sources, too much need for redemption, too little time to find either.
Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Sleep