Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining was an exercise in isolationist terror and psychotic dads. Its sequel Doctor Sleep is a tour de force about family and redemption starring two of the author’s more memorable protagonists, one of them a grownup version of that psychic little boy who survived a hotel of horrors.
Doctor Sleep catches readers up with Danny Torrance, the boy who learned of his telepathic powers and connection to the otherworldly — in other words, he’s got “the shining” — before the famous Overlook Hotel burned to the ground, taking his alcoholic father, Jack, with it.
Decades have passed, and now Dan Torrance is struggling with a variety of demons — the literal ones as well as the ones that come at the bottom of a bottle or baggie of white powder. His shining has flickered on and off throughout his life like a lightbulb on the fritz, but Dan finds it coming on strong again in sleepy little Frazier, N.H. Clean and sober, Dan is going to AA meetings and working at a hospice where he helps to ease patients on their deathbeds.
Dan discovers the existence of Abra, a gifted little girl who has demonstrated her telekinetic powers and precognitive abilities in a variety of ways, from an incident on 9/11 to a nifty trick with spoons. She corresponds with Dan at different times in her life, feeling he’s a kindred spirit. But Abra desperately reaches out for his help when she gets the feeling someone’s coming for her.
King has long had a penchant for turning Americana against us — the family dog in Cujo, the vintage hot rod of Christine — and here he rolls out a caravan of RVs filled with a malevolent group of ancient travelers called the True Knot led by the villainous Rose the Hat. They feed off life essences — or “steam” — of people such as Abra who are strong in certain superhuman traits, and when they’re hungry not even little kids are safe from their ravenous appetites.
Even though it risks his own stable life, Dan doesn’t blink when it comes to aiding Abra from an impending True Knot incursion. His is a heroic arc of redemption, and Abra and Dan’s first meeting at a park bench is a master stroke by King in its utter wonder, as they both realize what they’ve been missing by keeping their individual powers bottled up like genies. Dan is the Obi-Wan to her Luke in the ways of the shining, much like Dick Hallorann was for Danny those many years ago at the Overlook.
King also deftly ties his literary universe with that of his son Joe Hill’s recent novel NOS4A2, a meta example of Doctor Sleep‘s familial themes.
The legacy of his father weighs heavily on Dan — when the young man vows not to take a drink because of what it did to his old man, King writes, “Sometimes we just get it wrong.”
When it comes to the Torrance family and the shining, however, King is always Mr. Right.