Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

As a reader I never noticed this distinction, but as a writer it now seems like a no-brainer. There are writers and there are storytellers. I'm more of a storyteller than I am a writer, and while my ego would like to be considered part of that rarefied group of writers, in truth, I don't mind being a storyteller. Because there are some very good writers who are primarily storytellers, and Stephen King is one of them. Pretty good company to keep.

I consider King a damn good storyteller, perhaps the finest storyteller we have in the U.S. today. I also feel that way about James Lee Burke, but Burke has a foot in both camps (I consider In the Mist of the Confederate Dead one of the most lyrical books I have ever read; it's up there with F. Scott Fitzgerald according to my lights), so he doesn't really count. But King? A damn fine storyteller.

On the book: I loved it. It is the first book in probably two years that I have sat down and inhaled every single frigging word. I couldn't put it down. It has been so long since that has happened that I was beginning to think that I was just a malcontent. Too stuck up to enjoy a decent book. Too wedded to standards that were persnickety and harsh and unfair. It was nice to be proven wrong.

For those of you who've been living under a rock, this book is the sequel to The Shining. There are only two books out of everything that I have ever read that scared the living shit out of me. The Shining is one of them; Ghost Story by Peter Straub is another. I STILL cannot see topiary animals without looking over my shoulder. To this DAY, I half expect to feel the rip of a claw/branch down the length of my back. THAT is how powerful that book was. And it was a little ironic that I was in Disneyland this weekend, and as I rode by the topiary "zoo" dotting the Small World ride I couldn't help but smile because I had Doctor Sleep in my luggage just waiting to be cracked open that afternoon.

So we have Dan Torrance many years later, an alcoholic like his father, so scarred, stumbling through life, falling a lot, drinking a lot, this boy has become a man and it's not pretty. There are a cast of characters and I won't bore you with basic plot details. I will say that this is a true circle novel. We come back to the Overlook, Dan Torrance must finally face the demons of those years, and once again try to survive and more importantly defeat evil. I think some readers might find this a little too pat, but I enjoyed it. It seemed to me to check off all those boxes that sequels need to do. It finished his story arc. There certainly is room for another story should King wish to pursue it, but Dan Torrance's story seems finished to me. It was very satisfying for precisely the reasons that usually float my boat. This is a book about atonement, a theme that always resonates with me.

Some critiques I've read said that they thought the last third of the book was too soft. I can see that. A younger King would have killed off a couple of people we would have mourned. This older King doesn't feel the need to do that. It did strike toward the end that this had very much a Ghost Story feel about it, with the tribe of evil types being led by a woman (much like Ghost Story), and the ending of the book featuring a road trip. But this is a quibble because maybe books like this just end like this.

None of these quibbles mattered. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.