Book Review: ‘Dr. Sleep’ by Stephen King

Written by Sue Bodkin

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Stephen King’s The Shining is arguably the most well known and oft quoted horror story of all time. Thanks in large part (if not completely) to the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name. So often after viewing said film, or reading the amazingly frightening book upon which it is based, one is left with the nagging question: What ever happened to little Danny Torrence? At long last, we have an answer.

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Beware: Viewers of the film who have yet to read the book (tsk tsk) will be confronted with some major dissimilarities that allow for this continuation. In the book, Dick Halloran (played by Scatman Crothers in the movie) does not die, for which I was always eternally grateful. He is/was a great character, and deserved better than an ax in the chest. What did die, however, was the Overlook itself. In the novel, Jack Torrence did not freeze to death in the resort’s maze, but exploded along with the hotel in the boiler room he failed to tend to. These differences are integral to the plot of Doctor Sleep. There are other things that separate the original masterpiece from its cinematic counterpart, but with regard to those I’d simply say “read the book.” It’s worth it.

In this sequel, we find a grown-up, alcoholic Dan Torrence hitting rock bottom. Dealing with the shining his entire life has taken a toll, and we (the reader) suddenly realize why Jack Torrence was an alcoholic in the first place. Perhaps alcoholism isn’t the only trait to run in this family. (In fact, the Torrence family tree plays a very large role in this novel). Dan travels the country, taking jobs in hospice after hospice, using his gift to help the elderly and dying pass over calmly and without fear (the titular Doctor Sleep).

At the same time we see Dan cobble the pieces of his life back together, we meet Abra Stone, a fellow shiner born into the new millennium with a connection to Dan that extends beyond their special gift.

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In The Shining, Danny was confronted with the challenge of a besieged father, isolation, and the Overlook’s demons. He had the help of Halloran to see him through. In Doctor Sleep, Abra is confronted with a much more tangible evil — the True Knot: a deadly, somewhat immortal gang of vampire-like miscreants who feed on the “steam” created when a shiner is tortured and murdered. Abra needs help to fend off the Knot and Dan finds himself thrust into the position where Dick Halloran had found himself so many years ago, teacher to Abra’s student.

Doctor Sleep succeeds where many sequels fail in large part because it does not try to rehash the same storyline that the original story told. Having taken off where The Shining left off, it answers all the questions we had about Danny/Dan while further informing us with regard to the skill of shining, how it is a blessing and a curse and how many subtle levels of shining that there are. We see the power of forgiveness, both of others and of oneself, and how Dan’s love of his father is not tarnished by the events of the Overlook. And yes, we do meet Jack Torrence one more time. As to whether his presence still harbors the evil of the hotel that destroyed him, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

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