No other author can make characters come to life quite like Stephen King can; his earlier book, The Shining brought Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrence sharply into focus and now he revisits Danny who is all grown up and known as Doctor Sleep. Keeping the same theme as his first journey to Colorado’s Overlook Hotel; evil places exist and draw evil to them; young Master Torrence makes his own nostalgic trip, but, this time as a battle scarred adult.
Stephen King has a finely honed skill that allows the reader to get into the head of all the major, and a good portion of the minor, characters in his books. He has not lost that skill as he moves into his latter 60’s. He also allows his audience, often referred to a “faithful readers” to find out what has happened to 5 year-old Danny Torrence after the evil hotel burned to the ground in The Shining.
It turns out that, as far as Danny is concerned, history can and does repeat itself; in more ways than one. Danny has followed in his dad Jack’s footsteps, and his grandfather’s it turns out, and developed a habit of being more drunk than sober. He has also developed his father’s temper and gravitated toward medicine, winding up working at a hospice.
Danny, it seems, is on a personal journey to flee his past and present. Hitting rock bottom; he steals from a coked out blonde whose son – badly abused by someone – tries to consume the remains of cocaine bought the night before. Torrence leaves the blonde woman her food stamps but takes all the money and leaves.
In the next town that Danny stops in, he meets another man who has the shining. Torrence decides to get sober and join AA. It is while he is battling to stay sober that he comes in contact with a someone who communicates with him via a chalkboard in his room and begins working at the hospice where he earns the nickname Doctor Sleep. Stephen King revisits The Shining and by the end of the book, readers get little glimpses as to what happened to all the characters in the first book.
Now at 66 years of age and after being struck by a van and almost killed in 1999 King still has the power to enthrall and entrap the readers of his stories. In 2000, the Maine horror meister was still recuperating when the man who was driving the vehicle that almost ended the novelist’s life died from unknown causes. King has referred to the driver, 43 year-old Bryan Smith, as someone who could have stepped from one of his own novels. Age and nearly dying has not softened King’s edge when writing and he has not lost the knack of making readers rush through his books to find out what happens next.
Doctor Sleep is the second book written by King that follows the further adventures of a young boy whose first story ends like with the protagonist still in childhood. The first novel was the sequel to The Talisman, which King co-wrote with Peter Straub, Black House. This follow-on novel about the grown up Jack Sawyer was also co-written by the same two authors and it provided a sort of closure for fans of the original book.
King, in an author’s note at the back of Doctor Sleep, said that he has been thinking of Danny Torrence for years and wanted to finally write the rest of his story. The author had a lot in common with Danny’s father, Jack in the first book and Danny in the latter book. King wrote briefly of his alcoholism, as well as his cocaine problem, in his 2000 book about writing titled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
Stephen King knows all too well the problems of dealing with one’s own personal demons. As he says in the afterward section, he is an entirely different man from the chap who wrote The Shining back in the late 1970’s. The book was published by Doubleday in 1977. Since then, he has quit smoking, drinking and snorting coke. What he has not done is quit writing the best books in the market. His tales almost always terrify or exhilarate, often with equal measure and each new book seems better than his last.
The only problem with reviewing Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, which really is The Shining revisited, is fighting the temptation to include too much information about the book’s main characters. Suffice to say, the least said the better, otherwise reading the continuing story of Danny Torrence would not be as enjoyable. Available at most booksellers, for quite a bit cheaper than when it was first published last year, it is a fitting addition to the existing library of any Stephen King fan.
By Michael Smith