Doctor Sleep

By Stephen King

(Scribner, $30, 544 pages)

Who is this author?

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Your treat, and this is no trick, comes today in the form of a rare goody: a sequel that is just as good as and perhaps actually better written than the original book. In this case, that is Stephen King’s creepy bestseller of 1977, “The Shining,” and the even creepier movie version directed by Stanley Kubrick. (King has said that he wasn’t all that crazy about the movie’s depiction of the characters, particularly the wife, but that film certainly left indelible images in moviegoers’ minds. Redrum!)

King’s incredible output is well-known, but bears a little repeating: more than 50 international bestsellers, including novels, story collections, memoir, mysteries, a guide to writing well and more. He won the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which annoyed some literary purists but seems increasingly justified. King is 66 now and still lives in Maine with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. He has also published the well-received novel, “Joyland,” this year and has another in the wings for 2014. The man is on a roll.

What is this book about?

What happens when a little boy who can read minds, see the future and commune with other dimensions – and who has experienced first-hand nearly indescribable horror, -grows up? Well, first he becomes an alcoholic and then he finds AA and his calling as a worker at a New Hampshire hospice, gently ushering dying elderly patients to the great beyond with the help of a cat who can tell who is about to die.

And then he meets a little girl who has even more of “the shining” than Danny Torrance ever possessed. And  discovers that 12-year-old Abra (as in, cadabra) is being pursued by a group of sinister, gypsy-like seniors who tool around the country in their RVs, looking for such children to torture and feed off. They are the True Knot, and they are truly not the cuddly old folks you might find in a Hallmark channel movie. Led by a  frightening woman called Rose the Hat, they are after Abra. And so, once again King sets up one of his titanic battles of good vs. evil, and we lucky readers get to go along for the ride.

Why you’ll like it:

King was a relatively callow 30 when “The Shining” was published, and he is 66 now.  He was the victim of a terrible auto accident that nearly killed him, and he has known popular and critical success that he could hardly have dreamed of as a young writer. He has matured, and gives credit to AA for helping him overcome his own addiction. And his prose and storytelling also have grown richer and more rewarding. It is rare to be able to revisit a story, especially one that is so firmly embedded in the popular pantheon, let along to enrich it with hard-won wisdom. It is to our great good fortune that he has done so here. Keep on shining, Mr. King.

What others are saying:

In The New York Times, Janet Maslin says: “Mr. King’s earlier books were full of phantasms and demons, but he grows ever more adept at rooting his dark thoughts and toughest struggles in reality…He remains amazingly resourceful. He’s so good at scaring that he can even raise goose bumps when he writes about the measles.

And in The New York Times Book Review, novelist Margaret Atwood says: “…King is a pro: by the end of this book your fingers will be mere stubs of their former selves, and you will be looking askance at the people in the supermarket line, because if they turn around they might have metallic eyes. King’s inventiveness and skill show no signs of slacking: “Doctor Sleep” has all the virtues of his best work. What are those virtues? First, King is a well-trusted guide to the underworld. His readers will follow him through any door marked “Danger: Keep Out”…because they know that not only will he give them a thorough tour of the inferno…he will also get them out alive…Second, King is right at the center of an American literary taproot that goes all the way down: to the Puritans and their belief in witches, to Hawthorne, to Poe, to Melville, to the Henry James of “The Turn of the Screw,” and then to later exemplars like Ray Bradbury.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “Iconic horror author King picks up the narrative threads of “The Shining” many years on. Young psychic Danny Torrance has become a middle-aged alcoholic (he now goes by “Dan”), bearing his powers and his guilt as equal burdens. A lucky break gets him a job in a hospice in a small New England town. Using his abilities to ease the passing of the terminally ill, he remains blissfully unaware of the actions of the True Knot, a caravan of human parasites crisscrossing the map in their RVs as they search for children with “the shining” (psychic abilities of the kind that Dan possesses), upon whom they feed. When a girl named Abra Stone is born with powers that dwarf Dan’s, she attracts the attention of the True Knot’s leader—the predatory Rose the Hat. Dan is forced to help Abra confront the Knot, and face his own lingering demons. Less terrifying than its famous predecessor, perhaps because of the author’s obvious affection for even the most repellant characters, King’s latest is still a gripping, taut read that provides a satisfying conclusion to Danny Torrance’s story.”

Kirkus Reviews says: “He-e-e-e-r-e’s Danny! Before an alcoholic can begin recovery, by some lights, he or she has to hit bottom. Dan Torrance, the alcoholic son of the very dangerously alcoholic father who came to no good in King’s famed 1977 novel “The Shining,” finds his rock bottom very near, if not exactly at, the scarifying image of an infant reaching for a baggie of blow. The drugs, the booze, the one-night stands, the excruciating chain of failures: all trace back to the bad doings at the Overlook Hotel (don’t go into Room 217) and all those voices in poor Dan’s head, which speak to (and because of) a very special talent he has. That “shining” is a matter of more than passing interest for a gang of RV-driving, torture-loving, soul-sucking folks who aren’t quite folks at all–the True Knot …. When the knotty crew sets its sights on a young girl whose own powers include the ability to sense impending bad vibes, Dan, long adrift, begins to find new meaning in the world. Granted, he has good reason to have wanted to hide from it–he still has visions of that old Redrum scrawl, good reason to need the mental eraser of liquor–but there’s nothing like an apocalyptic struggle to bring out the best (or worst) in people. King clearly revels in his tale, and though it’s quite a bit more understated than his earlier, booze-soaked work, it shows all his old gifts, including the ability to produce sentences that read as if they’re tossed off but that could come only from someone who’s worked hard on them….Satisfying at every level. King even leaves room for a follow-up, should he choose to write one–and with luck, sooner than three decades hence.”

“….King has become one of the most successful horror writers of all time. His latest novel, a highly anticipated sequel to “The Shining,” marks a return to form for the old master, who reunites loyal readers with Danny (now Dan) Torrance. Decades after the events at the Overlook Hotel, Dan is wrestling with his own demons and putting his psychic abilities to work at a series of nursing homes where he provides comfort to dying patients. When he finally finds a home—and sobriety—in a cozy New Hampshire town, Dan meets a young girl with a shining even stronger than his own. Together, he and young Abra Stone must take on a tribe of people called the True Knot, whose innocent, RV-driving appearance belies their true nature. VERDICT: This is vintage King, a classic good-vs.-evil tale that will keep readers turning the pages late into the night. His many fans won’t be disappointed,” says Library Journal in a starred review.

When is it available?

King’s latest is waiting for you at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Camp Field , Dwight, Goodwin and Park branches.

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