I love Stephen King's work. I grew up with Stephen King, been reading him since I was 12 or 13. His writing has impacted my reading choices, my movie choices, my writing voice and my love of pop culture. I've learned TONS from him - he just jams so damn much stuff into his narrative you can't help but learn something - and certainly not the least of which was the expression "Jesus jumped up Christ in a sidecar". I have virtually every single one of his books. They fill a bookcase in my family room; the shelves groan under the weight of all of those hardcovers.
For each of his books that have scared the ever-loving crap out of me (The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, Pet Sematary, Bag of Bones) there have been almost the same number that have moved me to tears (Lisey's Story, Insomnia, The Green Mile), left me feeling "meh" (The Tommyknockers) or been in a genre that, dammit, as much as I try to like it, I just don't (The Dark Tower series).
So I am what Steve refers to as his "Constant Reader", and this is my take on Doctor Sleep.
Initially I was leery about this one when it was billed as a "sequel to The Shining" (What?!? King has finally succumbed to the siren call of the series? And he's sacrificing Danny Torrance to do it?!?!) After having read it, I would say it isn't so much a sequel as it is a revisit; answering the question of how Danny turned out after that terrible winter at the Overlook.
I was hooked by the third page - when King dropped me right into the mood and tone from The Shining. My skin crawled and my shoulders tensed, and I was back in the bathroom of Room 217 at the Overlook. (And we all remember what was lying in that bathtub.)
Danny has turned out much as we would expect from a kid who spent the winter dodging dead folks, hedge animals and a crazed father with a sledgehammer; that is to say, fucked up. He drinks, like his dad did, and loses jobs, like his dad did. His shine is almost gone and the drinking keeps it that way. Doctor Sleep is the story of Dan's redemption.
One thing that you notice when you've been reading King for this long is how much he has changed as a writer since he started. The other thing you notice is how much you have changed as a reader. I read a magazine review of this book earlier this week where the reviewer referred to King's treatment of his characters as "tender", and really, there is no better way to phrase it.
King is a freaking master of characterization - to read one of his books is to lose yourself completely in the characters he has created. Doctor Sleep is no different. King's handle on his characters is so complete that to finish one of his books leaves the reader bereft; and gives his novels a sense of poignancy that becomes stronger with each book. This is where (imo) King has changed. In his earlier novels, although you still had a strong, almost visceral sense of his characters' identities, there was usually an undertone of unease, or fear, or horror, that permeated the book. Sometimes that tone was enough to make me feel like I couldn't finish the book fast enough. For me, that sense is what has changed over the years. His characters might not be any more sympathetic than they were in the 1980s, but he writes them more sympathetically. (If that makes any sense!)
Oops, I digress.
If King perhaps didn't give Dan the specific type of story I thought I was looking for (a "true" sequel to The Shining, with a return to the Overlook, perhaps, with characters we met in the first book), he gave him the only story he could: and if I tell you what that is, I'll spoil it.
This was really, really good. 4 stars.