The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of Stephen King Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of Stephen King Week!

I was born in 1974 back when Stephen King was just getting going, having published his first book, Carrie, in the same year.  Other books quickly followed, and in 1977, he wrote one of his most famous works, The Shining - the story of the dysfunctional Torrance family was made into an iconic Stanley Kubrick movie in 1980 (which King distanced himself from, reportedly feeling it to be a less-than-faithful adaptation of his work).  

If you want to get way more in-depth with the movie version of The Shining, the recent documentary Room 237 was an interesting (if slightly far-reaching) take on people's perceptions of the movie.  The Shining, of course, memorably features young Danny Torrance, who is able to sense people's feelings and thoughts, see things other people can't see (hellllllooooo spooky twins and elevator full of blood!!) and survives his terrible alcoholic hotel-caretaker father, Jack.

I'll be honest – when I heard that King was working on a sequel to The Shining titled Doctor Sleep to be published nearly 40 years later, I was skeptical – was there really more to the story?  I am thrilled to report that the answer is a resounding “yes” - Doctor Sleep is by any measure a success.  It's gentler than The Shining to be sure, but to me, just as intriguing.

The book opens in 1981, a few years after the events of The Shining, with Danny and his mother Wendy now living in Florida.  After a short prologue establishing Danny's continued link to the supernatural, King jumps us ahead a few years into the other storyline that runs throughout the book, the introduction of a roving band of ageless RV'ers, who look like any group of friendly old folks you can find at rest stops across our great nation.  This group is different, however – very different.  As we quickly learn, this group, calling themselves The True Knot, survive and thrive on a substance referred to as “steam” - a mystical by-product of the torture and eventual murder of children with special abilities – children like Danny Torrance.  The leader of this group is a woman of dark beauty, referred to as “Rose the Hat” who gathers her acolytes to her in ways practical, emotional, and sexual.

With the players mostly in place, we swing back into Danny's (now “Dan”) life, which is a wreck.  Having falling into a full alcoholic spiral of his own, he hits bottom one day in a run-down apartment next to a woman whose name he can't remember and whose money he takes; a decision that will haunt him for many years to follow.  After bottom, Dan moves from town to town, taking what jobs he can find and drinking his pay until he gets fired and has to move on to the next town.  Eventually he washes up in the town of Frazier, New Hampshire, where he finds work at the Teenytown Railroad, a touristy mini train that strikes a chord in his psyche.  As a side note, does any writer, living or dead, work the parentheses and the italics like Stephen King?  I'd submit not.  

Through his new boss, Dan finds his way to AA, where he finally begins to cobble together week after sober week and, eventually, month after sober month.  His sobriety even leads to a new and long-term job at a local hospice, where he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep” for his seeming ability to help ease the transition between life and death in the patients.  

One day during an AA meeting, Dan finds himself jotting down a single word carefully in his little meeting notebook - “Abra” - though he has no idea what he means.  Immediately thereafter we are introduced to newborn Abra Stone, a most unusual baby who grows into a most unusual child.  Abra's arc gets off to a dramatic start when both of her parents have terrible nightmares the night of September 10, 2001, and awaken to a screaming Abra, whose cries don't abate until hours later, after the events of 9/11 have transpired.

If you guessed already that Dan and Abra are destined to meet and battle the evil True Knot, then this isn't your first Stephen King novel.  Abra and Dan begin communicating years before they ever meet, and when she spies a missing child ad that trips her shining (which is much stronger than Dan's shining ever was) and sends Dan and her open-minded pediatrician, John Dalton, on a not-so-wild-goose-chase, they begin to get a sense of how powerful Abra is – and how far Rose the Hat and the rest of the True Knot will go to get a taste of her steam.

As always, I don't want to spoil anything for you.  And I will note that for you early King readers and those that prefer straight-up gore or supernatural horror, this may not be your favorite of his works.  But (and I also felt this way about his last book, 11/22/63) I am enjoying this phase of King's career and eager to see what he does next.  As a reader, to be able to say that about an author who has been publishing as long as he has is a true joy.  

Hardcover Honey verdict: Four shiny bookworms out of five for this satisfying read.