Doctor Sleep is the long-awaited sequel to one of Stephen King’s most popular novels, The Shining. In it, readers are given the opportunity to witness Danny Torrance as a seriously screwed up but equally well-intentioned alcoholic adult. While some of the suspense of its prequel has not been carried over into this revisit, still King proves why he is a master of his craft and fans of the original will probably not be disappointed by this follow-up.
The story begins with Danny as a child, just a few short years after the events which took place at the infamous and nefarious Overlook Hotel. Danny and his mom are living alone, relatively happy and healthy. Danny’s connection with the Overlook and the otherworldly in general has, for the most part, dissipated. At least, that’s the way it seemed. Soon enough, we learn that the dead still visit young Danny – and he must reach out to his old mentor, Dick Hallorann, to learn how to lock away the demons for good. Ultimately, Danny grows up allowing his mother to believe that his “shining” has dulled – he, like the girl he will one day meet- would rather deal with his abilities on his own, leaving his mom free of the worry and pain which would surely haunt her life, had she known how upsetting his own was.
As an adult, Danny becomes an alcoholic like his father. He hides this, too, from his mother (who must surely have known on some level). He travels the country, a homeless drifter, drinking, screwing, and working jobs just long enough to make a few bucks. Eventually, he sleeps with a woman who, along with her son, will haunt Danny’s memories for years to come. After this lowest-of-low experience, one which the reader should learn of on their own, as it is an anchor to Danny’s life trajectory, Danny eventually ends up in a small New England town where he meets the girl who change forever. His relationship with her is one of mentor and mentee, and it aids in Danny’s road to sobriety. There are others out there like him and Dick, after all, and this girl is more powerful than any he has ever met.
Just like those who shine for good, however, are those who exist from evil. Vampire-like beings, once human, they feed off of the power of the shining. This power is, of course, most concentrated in children. These parasites, an ancient, powerful, and enormously wealthy and well-connected community, travel the country in their R.V.’s, unassuming middle-aged and elderly folk whom nobody would bat an eye at, but who lure and kidnap children, torture them for their “steam” (what they call the excretions of their shining) and then kill them.
Eventually, psychically, their leader, Rose the Hat, crosses paths with Danny’s young apprentice, Abra. At this moment, the scene is set for a battle that will come – that must– come; a showdown between good and evil, between shining and vampire. Abra, Danny, and a few companions must face, head on, this enormous evil force and defeat it once and for all, or die trying.
Ultimately, Doctor Sleep is an intricate, well-developed, and moving sequel to a King masterpiece. While it is not quite as horrifying as his earlier works, King’s talents as a story-teller remain unquestioned. The emotional depth and strength of characterization he brings to this one, too, are admirable, particularly as King’s earlier works tended not to be much concerned with character development (they were much more about creating a mood of suspense or terror than about telling any one person’s story). I was skeptical about the book at first, and remained so for the first couple dozen pages but, in the end, I find myself thinking about the book quite a bit – even weeks after finishing. The mark of a good story, no?
“After the things that she had seen and been through, she knew that shadows could be dangerous. They could have teeth” (7).
“The mind was a blackboard. Booze was the eraser” (83).
“In her head every superstition and old wives’ tale still lived . . . she knew superstition was shit; she also spat between her fingers if a crow or black cat crossed her path” (88).
“Perhaps kids really did come into the world trailing clouds of glory, as Wordsworth had so confidently proclaimed, but they also shit in their pants until they learned better” (123).
This has been one of the most surprising reads of the year for me, so far. I’m not sure why I didn’t realize that this Shirley Jackson is the same Shirley Jackson who wrote “The Lottery,” but it didn’t take too long to figure it out. The Haunting of Hill House is simply overflowing with the most luxurious, sumptuous, sensual language imaginable. It’s freaking beautiful – and it’s a horror story! Well, sort of. I would consider it to be more of a psychological thriller, akin to, say The Sixth Sense, but it is typically considered one of the best “horror” books of all-time, so there we go.
Anyway, what did I love about this book? Well, the plot. The characters. The language, especially. The book’s opening paragraphs are some of the best I have ever read, from anyone. It’s the kind of story introduction any writer would dream of crafting – perfection. The rest of the book is much of the same. Romantic language that flows into the most bizarre, eerie plot situations. Eleanor Vance’s troubled mind, Theodora’s narcissism and lesbian inclinations. Mr. and Mrs. Dudley and their dunderheadedness. Doctor Montague’s obsession with the other-worldly, an obsession which leads to tragedy.
On the surface, the book is a supernatural tale about four people who visit a haunted house, each for his or her own reasons. Dr. Montague and his assistant, Theodora, are researching psychic phenomenon (specifically something called “haunting”). The doctor is an occult scholar who has invited Eleanor there due to her documented experience with poltergeists. The fourth is Luke, who is the future heir to Hill House. Initially, the house seems a bit haunted, but in an “isn’t that odd?” sort of way – doors closing by themselves, strange noises in the night, etc. Soon, though, the house begins to flex its muscles, almost as if awakening from a deep slumber. It begins to recognize the people living inside of it, and the house sets its sights on one visitor in particular.
Beneath the veil of “thriller” are the many deeper elements of the story. Jackson is positing feminist ideals, presenting lesbianism in an off-hand, natural sort of way (quite unheard of in 1959), and engaging her readers in questions of science, religion, and human relationships. It is a complex, multifaceted novel, of which the supernatural is only the method, rather than the theme.
Immediately upon finishing this book, I went out and bought another Jackson novel (Hangsaman) and also watched two film versions of The Haunting of Hill House. The first version (1963) departed slightly from the book, but it was much more true to the story than the remake (1999) and much the better film, overall. The remake was, in fact, quite terrible. In any event, the book is one of my favorites of the year – Jackson is a brilliant writer, one whom I regret not having really investigated sooner. I could see myself spending a great deal of time studying her life and works sometime in the future.
“Some houses are born bad” (70).
“It was said that the older sister was crossed in love, although that is said of almost any lady who prefers, for whatever reason, to live alone” (77).
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone” (3).
“Am I walking toward something I should be running away from?”
“I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside.”
“Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.”