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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What I’m Reading: Doctor Sleep

Back in April I finished listening to Doctor Sleep by Stephen King but I saved this review for the start of my 31 Days of Horror marathon (which began today here) for a few reasons.

1.  It's Stephen King. How better to get you psyched for the Halloween season than with the man who invented the modern horror genre. King symbolizes everything that we experience in the library during this month-- people come to the library wanting a seasonal read, and sometimes, his is the only horror name they know. This is where the average patron begins his or her horror interaction with us, so why not start the month with King?
2. As you will see below, this novel makes for an excellent horror introduction.  It is a well written novel with wide appeal but may not represent the current state of today’s horror.
3. I wanted to get you psyched for helping readers looking for scary reads whether or not you read my horror blog. I had my first official seasonal request for an adult horror story at the desk on Monday. If you haven’t already been approached, you will be soon.
4. I was already so far behind in this review, that I figured it would be better received and used by you to help patrons closer to Halloween anyway.

So here’s the very quick set up on the plot.  Doctor Sleep is the long awaited sequel to The Shining, which I have gone on record many times as saying is the best Stephen King book to start reading King with. Doctor Sleep begins with the main character of The Shining [who was a child in that novel], Danny, as a not so well adjusted adult. He is still actively and self destrctively running from the horrors that his psychic powers force him to see. As you can imagine then, Doctor Sleep is the story of Danny’s very late coming of age.  The story is about how he is forced to address his powers, help a young girl who is even more powerful than himself, and return back to where his personal horrors all began to vanquish an evil that has been living amongst all of us for hundreds of years and is out for blood.

Yes, I am being very vague on the plot because I don’t want to giveaway too much from either novel.  But this brings up an important point.  You do NOT need to read these books as a series or even in order in order to enjoy either or both.  I enjoyed how Doctor Sleep added depth to The Shining but gives enough background detail into how Danny got to the point he is at, so that you don’t have to have read it.

In terms of appeal, you want to read this book to see a master at work. As I said in my book about King [paraphrased]:
"A typical King story line features fast paced action and conversational language with misfit heroes tackling an evil that has been unleashed upon a normal world. King loves isolated settings, and he does not shy away from including sex and violence in his books." 
And Doctor Sleep features all the best King has to offer.  Specifically this novel has a well developed reluctant, extremely flawed, but sympathetic protagonist, Danny; in fact, it helps that many of us remember him as a kid in The Shining. But it is not just Danny, the other major characters here are well drawn, multi-dimensional and interesting, particularly the young girl Danny must team up with in order to save humanity.

But it is the villains that are fantastic here.  It is a group, and they are an evil lurking just beneath the surface of our real world. Only Danny and others with “the shining” can see them for what they really are.  The mythology King has created around the group, their seat of power, how they stay alive....just everything about them is menacing, chilling, and terrifying. I dare you to ever talk to someone in an RV again after reading this book. You are a braver soul than I if you can do it.

But this also leads to the biggest problem I see with Doctor Sleep as a 21st Century horror novel. It is too thriller like in its storytelling.  It has a very clear dichotomy between the good guys and the bad guys. But most importantly, the situation King sets up is for a final epic showdown should result in terrible losses for our heroes, but it does not.  In fact, the ending was super happy and perfect; it got a little cheesy as we find out the true relationships between some of our heroes.  It was just way too happy for horror.  It had the Hollywood ending feel of a thriller, not the emotionally wrenching ending of a more traditional horror novel like NOS4A2.

Also, on a personal dislike note, there is a huge Alcoholics Anonymous angle to this story [which I get because of King’s personal experience], but for me, it was too preachy. However, this is also a reason some people will love the book.

So, as a novel, it is top notch-- great story, fantastic action, terrifying evil, wonderful characters, and it adds to the universe that the classic The Shining started.  This is a great read for King fans and supernatural thriller fans.  However, for horror fans, those who really appreciate the nuances that the genre has developed over time, it is a disappointment. For me, I liked it but think NOS4A2 is better.

So know what your reader is looking for.  And this time of year that distinction matters.  There are plenty of patrons who want to dabble in horror during the Halloween season, and for them, Doctor Sleep is an EXCELLENT suggestion. However, for people who want to experience the genre at it’s current best should try Joe Hill, Jonathan Maberry, or a few of the other authors I talk about on the horror blog. [Also, there is more in the “Readalike” section below.]

Note on the audio:  Stephen King is such a fantastic story teller that more often than not I find listening to his books even better than reading them. I better appreciate his pacing and story construction in this format. The reader here, Will Patton has read King before. He was not as good as Craig Wasson’s reading of 11/22/63, [that may be unfair because 11/22/63 is one of the best books I ever listened to and much of that has to do with the quality of the book, and nothing to do with the reader], but Patton did keep me involved in the rising tension and caring about the characters even when I was feeling bogged down in the AA stuff.  He grabbed my attention, inhabited Danny [who is a very complex character], and easily kept me fully engaged for 18.5 hours.

Three Words That Describe This Book: compelling, great characters, unrelenting menace

Readalikes:  As I mentioned above, the other mainstream, epic horror novel of 2013 was NOS4A2 by King’s son Joe Hill.

Another classic, if slightly less well known horror novel that like Doctor Sleep that was a long awaited follow-up to a classic, yet still completely readable on its own, is A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons [the sequel to Summer of Night]. Again, from my book:

“Forty-one years after I died, my friend Dale returned to the farm where I was murdered,” begins Simmons terrifying look into ghosts and madness.  Although with Winter Haunting, Simmons returns to the characters of 1991’s Summer of Night, this novel stands on its own as an engrossing fright-fest with nods to the classics in the haunted house subgenre.

For more stories of people with psychic abilities try the backlist option A Stir of Echos by Richard Matthesson or the new trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer which begins with Annihilation.  These are also compelling horror stories with a menacing atmosphere lots of suspense and characters with psychic abilities.

Finally, if you have access to NoveList, I updated the readalike article on King last year.  There are many more options there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I liked your review and I understand what you mean by it being different from true horror. It is more of a psychological thriller. I really enjoyed this book and was hooked from the start and couldn't put it down.

I wrote my review recently also and if you are interested in reading it, it is at www.anitasbookbag.co.uk