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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shine On, You Crazy Author

Of the 438 or so books Stephen King has written, The Shining provides the greatest amount of sheer terror.  I read that book when I was a relatively young teenager--probably too young--and was so traumatized by the fearsome goings on at the Overlook Hotel that I had to take deep breaths and steel myself every time I wanted to go outside: The front door to our apartment, you see, was at the end of a hallway.  The hallway was short--maybe six feet--but always dark.  I knew that, if they were so inclined, unseen ghosts could move fast enough to grab me before I could open the door, flood the hallway with light, and cast the malevolent spirits back to Hell.  Luckily, they never got me, but the fear has never completely disappeared.

Doctor Sleep, which picks up the story of Danny (now Dan) Torrance, the tormented child at the center of The Shining, is not as scary as its predecessor--it almost couldn't be--but it provides its own satisfactions nonetheless.

In this novel, the grown-up Dan Torrance is a recovering alcoholic working at a hospice, where he uses his psychic talents (the "shining" of the original novel) to ease the elderly residents' journeys into the hereafter: His kindly deathbed ministrations earn him the nickname "Doctor Sleep."  Eventually, Dan makes the acquaintance of Abra Stone, a 12-year-old girl with immense psychic abilities of her own, abilities that have brought her to the attention of a group of spiritual vampires known as the True Knot.  The True Knot want Abra for her "steam"--basically her essence--which, because she has such a powerful "shine," would provide sustenance for days.

Stephen King knows how to tell a story, and Doctor Sleep provides plenty of suspense and excitement.  The best parts of the novel, however, revolve not around the supernatural horrors of the True Knot, but focus instead on Dan Torrance's battles with the all-too-mundane demons of addiction and alcoholism.  Stephen King himself has made no secret of his own struggles with addiction, and in the scenes depicting Dan's self-centered depredations, his desperate reaching-out for help, his temptations throughout his life of sobriety, and his interactions with sponsors and other recovering alcoholics--in these scenes we can imagine the reality through which King himself has struggled.  And we can only be thankful that he made it through and lived to share the experience with the rest of us,

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