Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King

The Basics

In this sequel to The Shining, Dan Torrance is back. He’s all grown up and dealing with demons of the personal variety as he’s become an addict like his father. We follow his journey toward sobriety as well as one where the demons are much more real.

My Thoughts

I wanted to love this book. Maybe that was a mistake. Anytime you approach a book with high expectations, they’ll rarely be met. This just wasn’t as good as The Shining. I didn’t expect it to be, but it didn’t even almost hit the mark. It just didn’t hit the mark at all.

People grow up, and when they do, people change. That’s to be expected. But this version of Dan is so far removed from the child he was in the previous book that I couldn’t make the connection. It should’ve felt like a continuation of Dan’s story. Instead it felt like a complete departure. I saw another reviewer mention that it seemed King had a story in mind already, about alcoholism and psychic vampires, and so he shoehorned Dan in, because why not make it a sequel to a now famous book? I agreed wholeheartedly. That’s the unfortunate tone this book sets: cash-in. And as far as Dan’s story goes, King spends an excess of time on his struggles with alcoholism. To the point of sending the rest of the plot to the backseat.

Speaking of the rest of the story, we’re treated to villains who aren’t scary in the least. And the one time when they might’ve been scary, attacking a child to drink their essence a la psychic vampire, it’s glossed over in a couple of shrug-worthy paragraphs that left me feeling pretty disconnected from the whole thing. While I’m not usually one to complain about too many characters in a King book, this is one of those times where he over-populated to the point of making these villains all interchangeable. Maybe their sheer numbers were supposed to make us wide-eyed with horror. But when nothing about them fills you with horror, their numbers don’t seem to do anything but bog the book down with silly names. Yes, they all had silly, pirate names. I don’t even know what to say about that.

This book also contains one of my most hated character tropes: the hysterical mother. Mama bear is all well and good, but this characterization verges on madness. No matter how necessary the situation is and how many times it’s explained to this woman or what safeguards are taken, she exists solely to derail everything and have a fit (a physical, flailing, screaming fit sometimes) that leaves the poor, long-suffering men baffled. Lucy especially reaches a point where she tells her husband she will never forgive him if anything goes wrong, threatens to send the pediatrician to jail, and wishes death upon Dan so that her daughter will live. These are not admirable traits. This is the kind of blithering control freak no one wants in their lives. It’s so intensely sexist to show a woman as an emotional mess who can’t function under pressure, and I wish writers would outgrow this one.

Is there a silver lining? Barely. The relationship between Abra, the girl Dan takes under his wing, and Dan is really heartwarming. She’s a great character who thankfully proves capable of the opposite of Lucy’s horrible tantrums. King is still able to write kids with some gusto, and even if I didn’t care for Dan’s story, I really enjoyed hers.

There were also some great references that deepen the connections between his books. Like some Dark Tower drops, which all us fans gobble up when we see them. And the added bonus of a reference to NOS4A2, a book by King’s son, Joe Hill. Yet for a book of this size with all it promised, these are consolation prizes at best.

Final Rating