Monday, December 9, 2013
By DAVID L. ULIN / Los Angeles Times
When Stephen King published his third novel, "The Shining," in 1977, he was a writer with a lot on his mind. Initially, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1998, he conceived of the book as "a Shakespearean tragedy, a kind of inside-out 'King Lear,' where Lear is this young guy who has a son instead of daughters." He even went so far as to divide the first draft into acts and scenes.
Stephen King says in his author's note: "Did I approach the book with trepidation? You better believe it."
The Associated Press
"DOCTOR SLEEP." By Stephen King. Scribner. 531 pages. $30.
Make of this what you will, but it suggests that King has always had more at stake than merely to frighten us, that he wants to get at the big themes: love, loss, loyalty, what happens between parents and their kids. In many ways, that's the essence of "The Shining," in which, even from the depths of his madness, Jack Torrance, the writer-turned-caretaker who has been possessed by the evil of the Overlook Hotel, manages to hold off his demons for a final instant and in so doing spares his son.
This is not to say that "The Shining" isn't scary; it's the scariest book I've ever read. But it's not the demons that terrify me so much as what they stand for: a world where evil is not only real but lingers, where love may not redeem us in the end.
In his new novel, "Doctor Sleep," King picks up the story of Jack's son Danny (now Dan) decades afterward – and Dan is struggling: "The shining (the psychic gift of second sight) was only one of the burdens … and not the major one. The major one was his alcoholic father, a troubled and ultimately dangerous man whom both Danny and his mother had loved deeply – perhaps as much because of his flaws as in spite of them."
If this makes "Doctor Sleep" sound like a ghost story, it is, in both a literal and a metaphoric sense. Dan is haunted, a recovering alcoholic trailed by years of bad decisions, some so traumatic he can hardly bear to think of them. Because he's a 12-stepper, the book is full of AA jargon, although it comes off as less cloying than a kind of code.
That's because, like all of us, Dan is looking for a way to live, a way to put the past behind him, to take those demons and lock them away. Early in the novel, King describes a visit from Dan's mentor Dick Hallorann, the former cook at the Overlook, who also is touched by the shining. Dick gives Dan a lockbox and tells him to memorize everything about it so he can re-create it in his mind. This is where the ghosts go, on a "high mental shelf" from which "they were never getting out." Of course, this being a Stephen King novel, they do get out – or worse, new ghosts emerge.
For the first half of the book, King does a fine job of playing out these tensions, while developing a series of overlapping plot and character lines.
There's Dan, who has found a place for himself as a hospice worker in New Hampshire; his acuity at helping the dying face their final moments earns him the nickname "Doctor Sleep." There's Abra, who lives a few towns over, a young girl so strongly touched by the shining it makes Dan's visions seem opaque. There are various friends and relations, who infuse the novel with the stuff of everyday existence, even as we know that this will shatter in the end. And then there are the members of the True Knot, a tribe of psychic vampires, some of them centuries old, who feed off children with the shining, sucking their essence (they call it steam) as they travel the highways of America in an RV caravan, disguised as harmless retirees.
(Continued on page 2)