September 29, 2013

Book review: Heeere's Danny!

Stephen King’s sequel to ‘The Shining’ focuses on the now-grown son of mad Jack Torrance, with mixed results.

By DAVID L. ULIN / Los Angeles Times

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Stephen King
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Stephen King says in his author's note: "Did I approach the book with trepidation? You better believe it."

The Associated Press

REVIEW

"DOCTOR SLEEP." By Stephen King. Scribner. 531 pages. $30.

It's an interesting choice, to build "Doctor Sleep" around such elements rather than to tell Dan's story alone. Who are these characters, after all, and what are they doing in a book that is, ostensibly, about someone reckoning with his past? But it works, at first, by keeping us off balance as we try to figure out how all of this will come together and what will happen when it does.

The danger becomes most palpable – and creepy – when Rose, the leader of the True Knot, tries to worm her way into Abra's head, after discovering the girl telepathically, in a random engagement of their minds. "Her shadow jumped high on the wall, but not just hers," King writes. "She turned her head and saw the little girl bearing down on her. Only she wasn't little anymore. Now she was a young woman wearing a leather jerkin with a dragon on her blooming chest and a blue band to hold back her hair. The bike had become a white stallion. Its eyes, like those of the warrior-woman, were blazing."

That's a terrific moment, as unexpected to us as it is to Rose, and it establishes Abra as a worthy adversary, setting up the battle between her (and, by extension, Dan, with whom she forms a friendship and an alliance) and the True Knot in something close to epic terms.

Still, in this interaction – or its aftermath – "Doctor Sleep" also starts to come apart: not to unravel but to grow predictable. Once the conflict between Abra and the True Knot is established, the novel becomes formulaic, and its tension dissipates.

It's not that the book is lackluster: King has built a layered plot, in which ideas, themes and images raised in the early pages resonate throughout. That is heightened by the hulking presence of the Overlook, which continues to resonate even if the physical hotel is gone. "It was gone now, burned flat," King writes, "but who was to say the evil had also been burned away?"

And yet, in the end, the Overlook promises more than it delivers, since its evil has already been contained. As for the True Knot, they appear more dangerous than they are: sick and a little tattered from the rigors of their wandering.

"(E)verything that goes around comes around," King writes. "Maybe it's luck or maybe it's fate, but either way, it comes back around." What he's saying is that we can't escape the past, but while that may be true, it also leaves the novel burdened with a certain narrative inevitability.

That's the risk of a sequel, especially to a work as vivid as "The Shining." King addresses this in an author's note: "Did I approach the book with trepidation? You better believe it," he admits. His wariness is not misplaced. "Doctor Sleep" is not a bad book, although it doesn't live up to its predecessor. If it has a lasting message, it may be that that you can't go home again.

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