Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Doctor Sleep Review


I feel no embarrassment in confessing that I am a fan of writer Stephen King. I know that being a King fan is not all that unique or unusual. Given that he is one of the single best selling current authors and possibly one of the best selling authors of novels in publishing history, many people are fans of Stephen King, the writer. For years, I would qualify this fandom with comments like "he's the best of all the popular writers." I have stopped adding this disclaimer. Stephen King is just a damn good writer. PERIOD.

I reviewed Lisey's Story long ago in the early days of this blog. Check out the link and see for yourself.

I shared my Good Reads review of The Shining in the entry for T-shirt #274.

This time around I am not looking at Amazon reviews or other online review collections, which may just piss me off without providing any material of value whatsoever.

King proves his writer chops once again in Doctor Sleep, his sequel to The Shining, in which we ever faithful readers (and those casual and occasional readers) not only find out what became of Daniel "Danny" Torrance after the incident at the Overlook Hotel, but also established a new character and a new threat in the world of Stephen King. The review from the GUARDIAN, linked here and below, lauded the book well enough, though the reviewer, Steven Poole, does confess that there is nothing as frightening in this book as in The Shining, and he actually invoked the hedge animals, which I felt were the least effective elements of that book. In regards to the hedge animals, Kubrick's hedge maze works much better to increase fear factor through claustrophobia produced by being buried in the snow of a Rocky Mountain winter.

Though some of the tropes are familiar territory for Stephen King books, I found Doctor Sleep very entertaining, and I give it a high recommendation for people who like this kind of subject matter (which is not the cup of tea brewed the way everyone may like it). The flaw in Steven Poole's thinking is that a book must be scary to have achieved its goal. Why can't a Stephen King book simply aim to entertain without the need to frighten beyond all possible reason?

Then again, sometimes, I feel as if I have lost some of my critical edge. I tend to like the things I read. But I see other people's criticisms, and I find that my own, often effusive praise may have come from a complacency. Am I not demanding enough of my fiction? But then, I will read something that I do not like, and I will feel the strength of my critical faculties. It's more about the fact that what I read and liked is very good and other things are not. Doctor Sleep is a very good novel. I have moved on to the Leftovers, which is all right, but not quite the same fun-house ride of thrills and chills as Doctor Sleep. Plot drives the bus in Doctor Sleep. This does not mean that character is not present or important, but it's not the central focus. The Leftovers sacrifices forward movement of the story for long passages of character history, at least in the novel's first hundred pages. Whereas Doctor Sleep starts in the past, when Danny is still a child, to be able to dramatize (show don't tell) Danny's background post-Overlook and his continued relationship with Hallorann before it jumps ahead to the life of Dan Torrance, the adult.

From the very beginning, Doctor Sleep has top speed rather than needing to build to top speed. It's 528 pages of a fuel-injected, intense nightmare. King begins the story a few years after The Shining and shows us a young Danny Torrance still dealing with the nightmare ghouls (IE the lady in the bath tub). Seeking the help of Dick Hallorann, now Danny's teacher for all things Shining, Danny defeats the demon lady as Dick lays the foundation for Danny one day being a teacher himself.

Fast forward to Danny, now Dan, as a young man. His mother has died of cancer, and he has fallen victim to the same disease that caught his father: alcoholism. The strength of King's story is that he gives us these scenes in present time, advancing the narrative as needed to dramatize the groundwork needed for the time period in which the story will take place, which is yet to come. In this sequence, Dan makes a terrible choice that will haunt him for the rest of the story, his own personal demons that he will have to wrestle until they are disintegrated. Fast forward again as Dan has hit rock bottom. He crawls into Frazier, New Hampshire, where he settles, dries out, and begins to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In his familiar New England territory, King builds his tale, alternating between three story lines, which will ultimately converge: Dan Torrance on the road to redemption still haunted by his bad choice that destroyed a mother and her son; Abra Stone, Dan's future pupil for the Shining, who catches the attention of some very bad people; and so, then, the bad people, known as The True Knot, the villains of the story. Unlike The Stand, which seems to veer off course when it switches gears from a post-apocalyptic survival tale to an almost Old West style show down between good and evil, here, the villainy is integrated from the start. The True Knot eat people's shine, which they call steam, and ultimately they want to eat Abra, as she has more shine than anyone they have ever encountered.

King tells the story deftly and delivers many nicely turned surprises and twists as the story unfolds and marches toward the ultimate showdown between the True Knot, especially it leader, known as Rose, the Hat, and Abra, aided by Dan Torrance. In the end, Dan discovers that the lock box in which he stuffed the demons of his childhood are empty and that his own personal failure is not so terrible after all. Finally healed, his burdens vanish like steam out of a kettle.

For someone like me, who considers himself a writer, reading Stephen King is a tutorial in how to shape character and story seamlessly, how to deliver the most fantastic elements of one's imagination simply and without too much flowery nonsense, and how to ramp up action and tension to keep a reader riveted. There were many times when, as I had to set down the audio edition, that I wanted to continue reading in the traditional way, scanning the pages, doing whatever I had to do to find out how it all ended.


DOCTOR SLEEP - Stephen King's Doctor Sleep and the art of the honourable scare

Stephen King damns Shelly Duvall in film of the Shining

KING interview - alcoholism and returning the Shining


- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1407.22 - 9:53
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