Sunday, November 17, 2013

Horror Novel Review

Doctor Sleep (2013):  I know I'm not alone when I say Stanley Kubrick's movie The Shining scared the ever-lovin' crap out of me.  I finally read the book last year.  It didn't scare me as much as it got my pulse pounding and adrenaline flowing.  I didn't expect to become so invested in Danny Torrance's living nightmare at the Overlook Hotel.  The ghost story aspect wasn't just frightening, it was interesting.  And the topiary coming alive?  Icing on a satisfying cake. Then news came of a sequel, which excited me.  At first.  I couldn't understand how the tale could continue.  But it's King.  He'd conjure up a groovy new nightmare for Danny that would no doubt keep me riveted to the page.  Right?  Well...

First off, we learn the sequence of events that occurred after the boiler in the Overlook went nuclear and blew the joint, and Danny's bat-shit crazy father Jack, to hell.  It's about what you'd expect.  Danny's mom Wendy works hard to keep them from the poorhouse and Danny works hard to keep from going insane.  His shining has no off switch, and eventually, he turns to booze to escape its maddening whispers.  You'd think given all he was forced to endure at the hands of his alcoholic father, the very last crutch Dan would grasp would be one of the 80-proof variety.  But he does, and his adult life is utter shit.  He drifts, finds work at hospices or nursing homes where he occasionally eases folks over to the other side, and is invariably fired for absences due to the booze.  Rock bottom for Dan is waking up next to a barfly after a night of drunken carousing.  While sneaking out, Dan encounters the woman's infant son who goes for the cocaine left on the coffee table.  Dan moves it out of reach, senses the kid's the victim of abuse but instead of helping, steals money and bolts.  Drifting north, he ends up in New Hampshire where he discovers stability, sobriety, and finally, a sense of belonging.  He also discovers a girl named Abra Stone.

Abra is a seemingly normal adolescent girl whose own shining eclipses Dan's by an incredible degree.  She's over the moon at finding a kindred spirit in Dan.  Her excitement is tempered by the fact there's a family of human-looking monsters hunting and torturing gifted kids like herself.  They feed on their shine.  It keeps them young and powerful.  These people are led by a nutty gal named Rose the Hat and roam the country's highway system in RVs.  Rose reckons a girl as strong as Abra could sustain them for a long time, perhaps indefinitely, and so sends her minions to New Hampshire while she remains in Colorado.  Yes, the True Knot is headquartered in a park next to where the Overlook stood.

Dan recruits some of his new, non-shining friends and devises a plan to wipe out the True Knot.  Of course, that plan involves Dan returning to where he was traumatized and terrorized as a child.  The Overlook.  With the hotel gone, though, his visit feels contrived and hollow.  Sure, there's the final showdown with Rose, but it's oddly tame if not downright boring.

My problem with Doctor Sleep is just's too tame.  As villains go, the overly dramatic Rose and her band of goofy-named cohorts are pathetic.  The True Knot doesn't exude menace like the Overlook's undead inhabitants Jack Torrance did.  The critters made out of the hedge were more menacing than the True Knot. 

In The Shining, King made a fire hose terrifying.  In Doctor Sleep, nothing is terrifying.  Don't get me wrong.  Stephen King can write excellent, non-horror fiction.  But if the fiction he writes is the sequel to an iconic horror novel, he really shouldn't forget the scary. 

No comments:

Post a Comment