Having a child, particularly a sleep-is-for-the-weak kind of child, reading has taken on a new pattern in my life. I used to be a read-all-day kind of gal, but I consider myself fortunate if I can wedge in 15 minutes before I pass out these days, so I figured I would make a half-way point check-in, just to get a few thoughts out before my mommy brain uses up the hard drive to store the plots of the next three Dr. Seuss books due to arrive in the mail this month. My four month old son is actually sitting in my lap as I type this; multitasking for the win!
So far, so good. The tone is there, just as in the original, and the characters- the ones remaining, anyway- still fit snugly into the molds they left behind. A sequel 30 years later is a risky proposition; any writer worth his salt will develop and change considerably over such a span. King, being particularly prolific, is even more likely to be a very different writer three decades later, but so far Doctor Sleep is striking a very nice balance between the old story elements and his newer, more refined style. This isn’t to say he has changed enormously, but it is true that he lives much more by the less-is-more approach to adverbs and ham-handed metaphors that he advocates in On Writing.
A bit of spoiler-free summary: Danny Torrance, the little boy with the big shine, is all grown up and still haunted, though whether more by the ghosts of the Overlook or his genetic legacy is hard to say. Anger, addiction, and fear drive Danny, now going by Dan, from place to place and job to job, and his inability to confront his demons pushes him to further extremes of pitiable and occasionally monstrous behavior. When he finally hits rock bottom, and it doesn’t get much closer to the very bottom than Dan’s night in a stolen homeless man’s blanket, he lights out for new territory and uses the prodding of his immense guilt to finally clean himself up and forge a life free of bar fights and blackouts. While he can escape his old habits through AA and his newly found calling as the eponymous Doctor Sleep, the shine and its visions- and perhaps responsibilities- are not so easily left behind. When a troupe of RV-driving psychic vampires start preying on kids that shine, Dan has to risk giving up his safe new life for a complete stranger, or become his greatest fear: his father.
At the halfway point, the villains, who call themselves the True Knot, are known and their plan to catch a child with the “motherlode” shine (or “steam” as they call it) is underway. Dan is acquiring his allies and rallying to prevent the scheme. The tension is building, but it is a fundamentally different book than its predecessor, and it is not as atmospheric or genuinely terrifying as The Shining. This isn’t a weakness, at least not yet, and the differences really lie in the fact that this is a more character-oriented work. The story has a three-way divide, jumping from Dan, to the Knot, and to Abra- the steam find of the century. It’s a more expansive approach, and reads more like a thriller than a story of the supernatural, though there are some very Overlook-esque horrific moments from time to time. Again, the difference is not a weakness, but the story is a slower burn and less easy to define.
Biography is not my preferred angle of approach to fiction; it’s often unfair and presumptuous, and robs an author of creative agency. But it’s difficult not to look at some of the obvious parallels between King’s life and work, since his struggle and triumph over addiction has become the stuff of literary legend. A three-gallons-of-beer-a-day addiction and full-on coke habit were just starting to take over King’s life when The Shining was written. Thirty years, dozens of bestsellers and one unfortunate run-in with a van later, and King is a new man. It isn’t a very far stretch to see Jack Torrance, the pitiful tool of the Overlook, as Old King, and repentant, responsible, AA-attending Dan as New King.
My tiny tot is telling me it’s time for his reading time now, so I’ll wrap up. All in all, I’m really liking this and I’m looking forward to the second half.