Dr. Sleep (Stephen King) Review by Jason Z. Christie

(Note: There will probably be ‘spoilers’ in this. But I’m going to split the review into two sections, with possible spoilers below my general review. I guess you can review a book without talking about specifics, but I don’t work that way.)

Holy frijoles, King is back! What’s that, you say? He never left?

To me, he kinda did. The first few books he wrote after being struck by a van, Gunslinger series aside, seemed sort of phoned in, to me. I’m mostly thinking of Lisey’s Story (which I can remember absolutely nothing about, which is odd), Duma Key (a lesser rehash of Rose Madder, to me), and From a Buick 8 (which I felt lacked any substance whatsoever).

At least I think those were all post-wreck. In fact, I didn’t think the eighth Gunslinger book was quite up to snuff compared to the other seven. Still great, of course. I’m not sure why he threw in so many words I didn’t know the meaning of, though. Kinda weird. I felt he was making some sort of joke, there.

But this. These Chocodiles, Francine.

Okay, safe to say, this is the sequel to The Shining. Who would have even thought that would happen? Who would attempt it? WHO COULD PULL IT OFF?

Stevie, that’s who.

It’s very, very good, in my mind. Yes, okay, it’s not as insane as The Shining. It’s not really creepy, or claustrophobic. It’s not a modern masterpiece of horror, in that sense. But this is a very worthy sequel. Even if you’ve never read the first book (what?), I recommend this one. That’s all I have to say to you.

Spoilers follow…

Are the people who don’t want to know specifics gone, now? I hope so.

Given that the original novel was written when he was in the depths of alcoholism, (and how did he not recognize his problem then, when he was writing about it?), it logically follows that Danny Torrance went through the same sort of thing as his father, and then rehabbed like King.

That’s part of what’s neat about this one. Like The Shining, it seems to be partly about the author himself. Man, he really lets you know what it feels like to want a drink badly. I don’t even care for alcohol, but I sympathize. I did have an uncle like that myself, and I can tell how hard it must have been, having read this.

I’m pretty sure King is a little schizo, as well. Arguably, all authors are. But there are certain things in his novels that I can relate to. In The Library Policeman, for example, he gives some details about paranoid schizophrenia that I feel can only come from experience.

So, in the same sense, I think King has a bit of the touch. He’s a little psychic. He’s also arguably prophetic, if you look at the end of The Running Man, or Rage, or even The Stand (it’s happening…).

These are all things I can relate to, myself. I wrote a short story about the levees in New Orleans being bombed (, a few years before Katrina, and then rumors about that swirled around the country after that happened. Then I told my daughter a few years ago that there would be a hurricane, and “let’s try and send it to New York”. Now I have a novel, Hurricane Regina, in which there’s, among other things, a volcano erupting in Iceland. Guess what’s happening over there lately?

My understanding is that this is an example of what Karl Jung called ‘the collective unconscious’. Basically, writers and other artists can dip into a sort of group mind, sometimes plucking out nuggets from a future that has yet to happen. The bigger the event, the more some can pick up on it. This is why there seems to be so much 9/11 stuff in pre-9/11 movies. I really doubt The Simpsons writers were in on it…

Anyway, why was I going on about that? My point is that King writes about shining because he’s experienced it himself. I find this sort of thing fascinating. In fact, I know it’s probably grandiose idiations and loose association, in psychiatric terms, but I’ve found little tidbits in his stuff that seems to relate directly to me. Crazy, I know.

But I think I have a bit of shine, too. So it would make sense that we sort of communicate, on some level. Specifically, the Citgo in Wizard and Glass, which was a place I passed every day for years (yes, I know this is pretty insignificant), and the dead child…Jason…, who is sort of the equivalent of Jesus in the Territories of The Talisman. Again, probably meaningless. But that sort of thing can kind of mess with your head when you’re ‘crazy’. (Which I mostly no longer am…)

Which is part of what Dr. Sleep is about. Danny (the young boy from The Shining), is now an adult, and for a number of years, drinks to sort of tamp down these visions and intuitions he has. But at some point, he goes to AA, and finally gets his life on track. When he does, the shining comes back with a vengeance.

He starts to communicate with an infant girl. As she ages, the connection grows stronger. Ultimately, something happens that necessitates them actually meeting in person.

This is a very subdued aspect of the novel. Danny is very conscious of the potential appearance of impropriety. At this point, she is something like thirteen. The wrong sort of age for a grown man to take any sort of interest in a girl. While there is nothing really sexual about the relationship in the least, it’s sort of an undercurrent. Not so much that Danny thinks about her in that way, but because he is worried about things looking like that. So, it’s a sort of sweet platonic love story. Lolita without the sex aspect. Very understated, and well handled.

Another intriguing aspect are the Clive Barker-ish sort of, um, I don’t know psychic vampire child murderers? There’s a cabal of quasi-immortals that feed off of the death throes of children, giving them regenerative anti-aging powers. They thirst in particular for children with the shine.

So you can see where he’s going, here. It’s sort of funny. These child torturing/killing people look down their noses at child molesters, at one point, and see no irony in that whatsoever.
But this is a part of the novel where I admire King as a writer even more. Because he seems to be basing these nomadic (and ultra-rich) elite on a group called The Finders, who were child traffickers that seem to have been protected by the FBI. He doesn’t really refer to that in any way directly, but the comparison can reasonably be made. It’s a rich detail of the subtext that most will probably not know anything about, and will overlook.

Just cool. In fact, he might be alluding to the activities of the global elite themselves. After all, he does run in those circles, to a degree. Either way, I think he reads the same lurid conspiracy stuff online as the rest of us, and uses what he reads about to great effect. It’s subtle, but it’s there. That, to me, is great writing. Encoded communication.

So, shining aside, there is also a connection to the hotel in which the original novel is based. The whole story is pretty much pitch-perfect, I thought.

It’s all resolved in typical King fashion. Predictable, to a degree, but with the inevitable twist. There’s a lot going on in this one, considering it’s not really very long. I don’t think it’s as long as The Shining, but maybe it’s because I blazed through it in a few days.

I’m falling behind in reading his work. He’s cranking them out faster than I can keep up with, at this point. Probably because I don’t read as much as I should, and I do have other books I need to read from others. But this example of what he is capable of really makes me want more of his latter-day works. Dang it, I hope he lives to be one hundred or more, and never stops writing.

If you love Stephen King, or The Shining, or have never even read his stuff, and just want a great story, pick up Dr. Sleep. The meaning of the title is well-explained in the text, as well, so I won’t even go into that. Just read it.

Author Jason Z. Christie is a huge fan of Stephen King, and even includes him as a character in the semi-autobiographical novel Cure for Sanity. He also hopes you caught the Barker and King word-play in this review, but feels silly pointing it out.

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