Baron's Blitz: Review for Stephen King's 'Dr. Sleep'

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Baron's Blitz: Review for Stephen King's 'Dr. Sleep'

Postby Baron von Gosu » Mon Oct 14, 2013 10:36 pm

In the author's note section of Stephen King's latest bestseller 'Dr. Sleep', King mentions having returned to the characters of the Shining 'with trepidation.' Reading King's notes at the end of his books often proves as interesting as (and in rare cases more interesting than) the stories themselves. It's a small gaze into the creator's mind to discover what sort of journey this particular story took to becoming real. Recently (The Dark Tower's 7th volume for instance) these little notes come across more as a defense for the stories, story elements, characters, or political and personal ideology that shaped the narrative like forceps during a painful birth. Dr. Sleep does a little of both- gives you the birth of the story and the defense for its existence.

Whether or not King made a decent sell of why the story of Danny Torrance, last seen escaping a hedge maze while an ax wielding, psychotic father freezes to death (if you are a fan of the Kubrick version) or escaping with his mother and shining partner as his father allowed the Overlook Hotel to explode (the book ending), there's no point arguing about the why's of existence. Much like the debate over God, the point is we're here so we might as well make the best of it. All we can do is decide whether or not the story is done well, lives up to King's lofty standards that have allowed at least 50 bestsellers, and whether or not Shining fans should take the time to give the latest yarn a try.

The story starts out simply enough: A grown up Danny Torrance has become the image of his alcoholic father, escaping his demons in the bottom of a bottle as he slowly loses the last vestige of control over his life. He moves around quite a bit, working different jobs in hospitals and hospices where he spends time mopping floors and using his weakening shining powers to help the dying pass comfortably (i.e.: painlessly) into death. We do get a little explanation on what happened to the characters that survived the Overlook hotel. Most importantly, however, we learn early on that the ghosts of the Overlook weren't entirely deterred by the hotel's explosion, and a few of them come and pay Danny a visit as he tries to move on with his life. Friend and savior Dick Halloran teaches him a way to lock away these evil spirits though, and for years things seem to improve for Danny.

At least for a while.

Danny's drinking becomes a way to numb the still lingering shining powers that allow him to see ghosts, read minds, and foretell future events. His burdens are worsened by his drinking, and eventually Danny discovers a support group of AA veterans (alcoholics anonymous) who eventually help Danny become sober. Meanwhile as the battle for sobriety rages on, we meet the True Knot which are this antagonists for our would-be hero. The True Knot are basically elderly RV and Winnebago drivers traveling the country blending in and enjoying faux immortality by finding children with 'shining' powers like Danny's and abducting them. From there the True Knot slowly torture and slaughter the children in order to absorb their 'steam' which is described as a white cloud of vapor that symbolizes the shining power. For you horror movie fans think of it as the little goblin in 'Cat's Eye' or the mummy in 'Bubba Hotep.' The True Knot have existed for thousands of years and now have their eyes set on young Abra who has more shining power than any kid ever (which includes Danny). The story then follows what you've probably already predicted: Danny and Abra team up to combat the True Knot in order to save the girl from a horrible demise.

My first bitch with the story is how long it takes to get going. The books is a little over 500 pages and a good 120 of those pages are dedicated to Danny wandering around aimlessly drinking himself into oblivion while fighting memories and worries of being like his father. I get alcoholism is important to the author (his own chemical dependency issues spawned part of the original Shining's story) but after a while it got to be redundant. Life sucks, I can't stop drinking, I hate my father, I hate my shining, and now I'm clean. Once Abra and the True Knot get introduced, the alcoholism takes a back seat yet is always present, which I found to work much better with the story. It's just a shame it took so long to get there. I will spoil one thing and say Danny is Dr. Sleep, and then in the next breath assure you it does nothing to ruin anything about the story. Danny earns the title from his gift of helping the dying pass on without pain, as if falling asleep. I'd much rather have seen King explore Danny's life as Dr. Sleep rather than focus most of the back story on the drinking. The name you ultimately decide for your book shouldn't be a secondary event mostly unused or forgotten in the story. Then again far be it from me to lecture a 50 time best seller on how best to name his book.

My second bitch is with Abra. I enjoy her character, I do. I like that she's a little arrogant badass who knows she's a badass, and often in response to the psychic battles with Rose, the True Knot's leader, she gives one liners I found myself wanting to say when imagining the scene in my head. My problem is, similar to with Danny's battle with alcoholism, it feels like forever and a day before her story got started. Part of the reason is to show off the strength of her powers, sure, but it takes a very long time (like page 250) before she and Danny actually meet up to talk about what's happening. With story happening so much farther behind the characters it often felt like plot elements fell into place rather than occurred naturally. The most obvious instance of this (and I won't reveal what exactly it is for those who want to read it) is toward the end when the very nature of Danny and Abra’s relationship is revealed. Like much of the flack 'Machine for Pigs' received, the book came across as a 'press W' style game, moving from point A to point B for the sake of only furthering the plot. Nothing felt accomplished by the character’s actions.

The good news is once the story got going it did a good job of drawing me in. The relationships among the various characters flowed well together, and the explanation of how the various shining powers worked made sense in their own weird way. Abra wasn't the usual annoying sidekick that detracts more than adds, and it was a nice touch having the good guys actually outsmarting the bad guys for much of the story. The horror elements are a bit sparse though. There's one well done torture scene of 'the baseball boy' and a few spooky happenings with the ghosts, but overall it isn't anywhere near as terrifying as The Shining. That's fine though, because Dr. Sleep in its own right gets enough right to still be an engaging story if you have the patience to get through nearly half the book as back story. Rose and her True Knot make decent adversaries, yet more could've been done to illustrate their transcendence of humanity in something over than gross arrogance. Especially since the way they run their society differs very little from the rubes (humans) they so often mock.

Overall Dr. Sleep will, if it hasn't already, march its way to the number one spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list. The story I think does a good job of showing King still has it in him to tell a good story, though it doesn't add anything earth shattering to his already impressive legacy. If you are a fan of King's work it's one I believe you will enjoy and won't tarnish the fond memories of discovering and walking the halls of the Overlook. There is also a certain cameo towards the end I thought was a nice touch to truly finish out the story of Danny Torrance, and I believe is the true moment of personal resurrection and forgiveness he strives to find for much of the book. But I'll leave you to discover that for yourself.

Until next time, dear reader....
"Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light."
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