After you’ve finished reading Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep,” the much-anticipated sequel to “The Shining” (1977), I predict you’ll never look at a crowded RV park the same way again. In fact, I’ll go so far as to suggest that if you find yourself behind an RV on the freeway being “driven at exactly ten miles an hour below the legal speed limit” you’ll turn and go fast the other way.
I’m sure of this because “Doctor Sleep” is King’s best supernatural thriller in recent years. In “Doctor Sleep” King exposes the horrible in the familiar with such straightforwardness that it’s chilling, and he reveals the extraordinary in the ordinary so unnervingly that he kept me reading well into the night … with extra lights on.
In this book, Danny Torrence (now Dan), the boy from “The Shining,” has grown up to look like Jax Teller on “Sons of Anarchy.” Dan’s ability “to shine” is still a “terrible privilege,” and over the years he has done his best to drown it in Jack Daniels. The demons from Dan’s drunken past and the “ghosties” from the destroyed Overlook Hotel continue to haunt him until he hits rock bottom. When he does, Dan gets on a bus to somewhere and the road to sobriety.
That somewhere is a small town in New Hampshire, where Dan takes a job at a hospice, realizing his powers can help relieve suffering. Dan has just about come to accept that his life will always be “a series of ironic ambushes” when his psychic path (and then his real one) crosses with Abra Stone, a girl who “shines” more strongly than Danny ever did.
Abra needs Dan’s help (in much the same way Danny needed Dick Halloran’s help years ago) because her essence is being sought by the True Knot, a malevolent tribe of RV-driving “empty devils” who “prey on children” who shine, torturing them so the tribe can feed on their last gasps (“steam”). When “steam” rises from “the agony of violent death,” it sustains them.
The True “eat screams and drink pain” under the leadership of a stunningly beautiful ancient ageless female called Rose the Hat. She wants her kind to “live like the kings and queens of creation” that they are. Tired of always “scrambling for nourishment,” of depending on man’s own inhumanity to man to fill their needs, she seeks Abra’s supernatural powers because Abra’s “steam” is strong enough to feed the True for centuries.
In my reviews of King’s previous two books, I’ve criticized their length, annoyed with their narrative bulk and frustrated by their excessive back stories, but in this book the tangents are tight, the characters compelling and the suspense, well, it will take your breath away.
Carole Barrowman is the author, with her brother John Barrowman, of the “Hollow Earth” series. She lives and teaches in Wisconsin.