While they were sleeping

While they were sleeping

Stephen King spins an eerie sequel — Doctor Sleep — taking off from the events of The Shining after 36 years, but poor character development and a rambling storyline are its drawbacks

By Mary Paulose (marypaulose@khaleejtimes.com)

Published: Fri 28 Mar 2014, 3:11 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:21 PM

Many years ago, as a teenager, and wondering whether to venture into horror reading territory with Stephen King, I read an article that went something like, “a few lines into the first chapter, even the bushes outside look menacing.”

I am one of those people who refuse to, or rarely watch horror movies and read spooky fiction. Bur recently, I bravely opened the pages of Doctor Sleep. The sequel to 1977’s The Shining promised to be worthy successor and initiator into King’s particular brand of deep, dark fiction.

Doctor Sleep takes place three decades after the hellish events that unfolded at the Overlook Hot-el (can anyone forget Jack Torrance — played famously by Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation — face frozen in horrifying rigor mortis at the end?). Dan, Jack Torrance’s 30-something son, seems not to have lost his powers — or the Shining — from those days. The story starts “harmlessly” enough (much like The Shining) with him fighting the demons of his past, but in the course of overcoming his struggling alcoholism (again, much like his father) and making something of his life, Dan settles down in an unremarkable New Hampshire town. He chooses to spend his powers soothing pat-ients on their deathbed at a palliative care institution.

But, of course, he can’t lead a normal life. Soon enough, he crosses paths with a sinister, nomadic group of sort-of vampires, who thrive by “drinking” the essence of people who possess the Shining… people like Dan. But the fight is not between him and them: he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to choose helping the others — with far more Shining capabilities than his — who are the victims of this group.

If you’re worried that someone of King’s calibre has ventured into vapid vampire territory a la Twilight, be at peace. True to form, he gives you terrifying moments aplenty, with a narrative that unfolds on a very psychic dreamscape; note: events that happen during hypnosis, astral projections, mind control, telekinesis, and while you were sleeping.

Sequels are always risky business, at perennial risk of failing to match up to the original’s brilliance or success. Doctor Sleep is not only ambitious in its scale, but amplifies the terror quotient as well. This is a good read but not quite in the same league as The Shining’s status. Characters — like the True Knot clan — are quickly introduced, but then the author discards detailed development to go focus on Dan’s life, personal struggles and past memories again.

On the upside, this is the best full-fledged novel that has come out from the author in a long time; he’s always been a prolific writer, but his last notable book was Cell 
in 2006.

It’s also a tender, touching tale of the emotionally vulnerable and shaken Dan and his humanity.

Similar to King’s style in short stories, you feel the weight of the characters’ struggles and hauntings as you read. It’s not always a good feeling. Inevitably, you end up finding the time to read only before going to bed at night, and I had to constantly battle the urge to slam it shut and store it away from sight, as far away from my sleeping area as possible, and apparently, this is something that most King readers experience.

It is probably fair to say that The Shining became what it is considered to be today — a cult classic — (for good measure) because of Kub-rick. So who knows, maybe what Doctor Sleep now needs is a celluloid rendering of King’s tightly-wound-up-in-a-clutch-of-horror genius.

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