Sunday, March 15, 2015

Emmy's Book Review... Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2)
Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.


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This is a many years later continuation of The Shining.  Dan Torrance, the little boy who survived the Overlook with his mom Wendy is all grown up and still dealing with a legacy that his dear old dad left him - alcoholism.  For the first hundred pages or more we see a Dan who is tortured by his past and his own ability.  The strongest of the Overlook haunts started finding him only a few years after that winter.  Distressed, Wendy contacted Dick Hallorann, the former cook of the Overlook who, if you remember, shone as well, and rescued Dan and Wendy from the hotel.  Dick teaches Dan how to create a lock box in his head, and how to take those remnants and lock them away forever.  Dan bounces around for years and years, eventually hitting rock bottom and landing in a town named Frazier, in New Hampshire.  Here he finds friends, and is introduced to AA.  Several years later he is working in a hospice named the Helen Rivington House, and using his talent to ease the passing of the residents there.  He’s aided in his efforts by a cat named Azzie, who seems to sense when one of the resident’s passing is imminent.  This is where he earns the name Dr. Sleep.  The year is 2001.

Miles away, a baby girl is born to Lucy and David Stone.  She is born with a caul over her face, which any student of superstition will tell you is a sign that the child would have second sight.  Being modern parents, they disregard this as an old wives tale. Lucy’s grandmother Conchetta thinks differently.  They name the baby Abra.  Dan picks her name out of the ether while attending an AA meeting, and writes it in his notebook.  She blips across his radar, then out again.  A few months later, in the early morning hours of September 11th, 2001, Lucy and David are both awakened from disturbing dreams to the shrieks of their baby girl.  The child is inconsolable, and nothing they did seemed to comfort her.  They eventually take her to the hospital, where they can find nothing wrong with her either.  They put them in a room, where the parents discuss their bad dreams while trying to quiet the baby, who hasn’t paused a second since she woke them up.  

Lucy dreamed that she found Abra crying in an airplane bathroom, with a bloody number 11 painted on her chest.  David dreamed that Abra lay at the top of an escalator in a burning mall.  People were running all around her frantically, but none of them were descending the stairs.  When he got closer he saw a number 175 also painted on her chest in blood.  (You see why we call Stephen King the Master of Horror? I got chills just typing that!)  Back in the hospital at 9:06 exactly, Abra stops screaming, just like someone turned off her switch. They then wander out of the hospital room, dazed, to find out that planes had hit the World Trade Center.  Her parents eye each other, not daring to say what they both are thinking.  As Abra grows older, the strange incidents around her keep happening.  The piano downstairs plays itself when she wakes up in the middle of the night.  She knows things that she has no way of knowing: that a favorite neighbor across the street has fallen and hurt herself, that her great-grandmother Conchetta (called Momo) is coming over.  During one of her early birthday parties, Abra is delighted by a magician, and in response hangs all of the spoons in the kitchen from the ceiling.  Her parents accept that she is special. She reads and writes much earlier than other children. They consult her doctor, but he finds nothing “wrong” with her.

Back in Frazier, Dan’s blackboard in his room becomes a message board.  He wakes up one morning to find “hello” written there.  He immediately thinks of Abra, the name that came to him years before.  He and she leave messages back and forth when she is small, then she goes dark for awhile, while she is growing up.  Dan spots her every now and then, hanging around the corners of his mind, or writing him notes on his blackboard.  His younger self, Tony, who he saw as an older brother in the Shining, becomes Abra’s friend.  She thinks of Dan as “Tony’s Dad”.  When she is 13 is when the main part of this story starts.  Her power, her shine, is growing at an exponential rate.  She dreams regularly of disasters, able to predict them.  One day she dreams the death of a boy in a baseball cap.  This is where the “bad guys” come in.  They are called the True Knot, known to the rest of the world as RV people.  You’ve seen them before.  They hang out at campgrounds, and TA truck stops.  They shop at Walmart and Sam’s.  They drive massive lumbering beasts of RVs and often stick together.  This is the perfect cover, and they blend into the background of America seamlessly, drifting from coast to coast, like modern gypsies.  

The True Knot are damn near immortal - one of them can remember when the Europeans worshiped trees - and live on what they call “steam”, the essence of death given off by a large tragedy (like 9/11, oh yeah, they were there).  But what truly sustains them, what restores their youth and vitality is to inhale the “steam” of someone gifted with the shine.  They hunt children that shine, snatching them and torturing them to death to enhance the steam. Occasionally they find one with a talent that may help them, and they “turn” them, making them part of the Knot.  For example, the one known as Snakebite Andi has the ability to put people to sleep.  They are lead by an Irish woman called Rose the Hat, whose tophat is her signature item.  Dan has dreamed of her before, warned by another ghost from his past that Rose is the “Queen Bitch of Castle Hell” and to steer clear of her.  Rose has a good size band with her, each with names more colorful than the last.  (Crow Daddy, Snakebite Andi, Barry the Chink etc)  They snatch and kill the boy in the baseball cap, and while they are torturing him to death, Rose senses Abra mentally peeking in on them.  She knows immediately that Abra is very very powerful, and makes plans to try to find her.  

One afternoon two years later,  Abra finds a picture of Brad Trevor, who until now she has only thought of as “the baseball boy”.  When she touches the “Have you seen me” she knows that he is the one she dreamed of.  She remembers Rose’s face, and accidentally finds Rose with her mind.  The connection is a surprise to both of them, and when Rose tries to turn the connection to her advantage and find out where Abra is, she is shocked that Abra tosses her out of her mind easily.  Rose is more determined than ever to find Abra, for the True Knot’s supply of steam has been running low for years.  She knows that Abra is powerful enough to fill all of their supply containers and given them quite a feast.  Then she thinks more diabolically - to keep Abra alive and use her as an unending supply of steam for years.  Abra is afraid of what has happened, and contacts Tony aka, Dan.  She and Dan meet, and Abra is thrilled to meet someone with a talent like hers.  Dan was conflicted about this at first, and wishes to speak with Dick Hallorann, since Dick was kind of his old mentor. Unfortunately his research tells him that Dick passed on years before. While attending the passing of a woman, she tells him that he is to wait, for there is someone who wants to speak with him.  She passes, and Dick, for lack of a better term, possesses her body to speak to Dan.  He tells him about the Knot, tells him that they will come after Abra.  He tells him that when the teacher is ready, a student will appear.  Dan knows then that he has to help Abra any way that he can.  

Dan and Abra make plans for Dan to try to find the baseball boy’s baseball glove, which Abra knows was buried with him.  She is sure that she can find Barry the Chink (who she calls Barry the Chunk) with it, because he touched it.   She writes down everything she saw during the “vision”.  Dan enlists John, who is Abra’s pediatrician, and ironically someone he met in AA.  John’s not sure about any of this, but he knows Abra is special.  He knows Dan has the same “specialness” as Dan told him where to find a lost watch once years ago.  They journey to Freemont, Iowa and find the place that Abra described, just as they described it.  With Abra sensing through Dan’s head, they find where the body, and the baseball glove. Meanwhile, Rosie tries to break into Abra’s head, and is fended off easily.  Abra manages to get more information from Rose’s head that Rose gets from hers.  Despite all of this, the Knot manages to pinpoint where they think that Abra is, and is coming for her from across the country.  Ironically one of their “family owned” campgrounds is the site where the Overlook was.  Rose sends a group to the area where they think Abra is - when they get close enough they will be able to sense her.  

Abra is able to concentrate on several things at once, lucky girl, so she and Dan and Dr John and her dad hatch a plan to fool the True into thinking she is one place when she’s not.  Barry (the Chink) is the True’s tracker, so he’s the one she has to fool.  Dan, Dave and John go to Cloud Gap for a picnic.  Abra is projecting herself to Dan’s mind, so strongly that Barry thinks that it is her and her dad that are going on the picnic.  Abra herself is back at home, across the street at a friend’s house.  She is peeping in on Barry as well, thanks to her connection with him and the baseball glove.  Barry’s in bad shape, all of the True are.  Thanks to the baseball boy, Brad, they are all developing bad cases of the measles.  He wasn’t feeling well when they snatched him, and when they fed from him the disease entered them and lay dormant for years.  Everyone knows that measles are deadly in adults, and even more so in the True, who hardly ever get sick.  

When they do they sicken quickly and cycle - blink in and out of existence- until they finally disappear altogether.  It’s very painful.  Barry directs them to Cloud Gap just before he dies.  Dan and Dave and John are lying in wait for them with firearms.  When the battle is over Abra is screaming in Dan’s mind that she doesn’t see the crow - Crow Daddy, another one of the True.  They get out of one of them that he left the group in Anniston, Abra’s hometown.  Dan warns Abra to have her friend's mom (they don’t know she has gone back across the street to go home, so that she can concentrate better on Dan and the battle) call the cops because they think he is coming for Abra at her house.  Thanks to Barry, they have her street, and her picture, and as soon as Crow sets eyes on her he knows she is the one.

Crow manages to stick Abra with a knockout drug and kidnap her.  He’s also abducted  Billy Freeman (friend of Dan’s who has a bit of the shine) who was guarding Abra.  Dan and Dave and John are frantic, because Dan lost contact with her and hasn’t heard anything since.  They are sure that she has been taken.  Crow puts both her and Billy in Billy’s truck and drives off, using Billy as a threat for Abra.  (if you don’t do as I say I’ll kill him)  She knows he wouldn’t kill her himself - he’s got to take her to Rose.  Rose felt when the others died in the campground and is beyond pissed.  I shudder to think what she is going to do to this kid.  Dan insists that Dave tell Lucy, Abra’s mom, what is going on.  Dan is able to contact Abra and help her to defeat the Crow, causing him to shoot himself.  Rose loses her shit when she feels him die, as he was her second in command and long time lover.  She vows revenge, abandoning her former plan to use Abra as a sort of steam-cow for years on end.  The True are all sick,  more dying from the measles. Rose’s back is getting further and further against the wall, and she knows it.  Dan and Abra get her and Billy to safety, to a hotel where they can sleep off the remains of the drug.  

Dan, John and Dave go to Lucy, and Chetta, who is in a coma.  Dan wakes her up using his talent, asks her a few questions, then helps her on to pass away, the same as he has been doing for all of the people in the hospice.  He and Lucy meet for the first time, and what has only been hinted at is now revealed.  Dan and Lucy are half brother and sister.  This is a big shock to Lucy, who is single mindedly focused on getting to her daughter.  Eventually they are reunited.  Abra and Dan plan an attack on the True.  Abra calls Rose on the telephone, goads her by calling her a coward, and tells her that she is coming to her to do battle.  She’s badass for a 13 year old!  They plan to meet her at the campground where the True are staying, - full circle for Dan.

Rose mistakenly thinks that Abra herself is coming, but Abra and Dan plan to use their link to have Abra be there in mind and not body.   Dan and Billy are driving out there, while Abra is back home in Anniston with her folks.   Dan and Billy mention that they are not sure that they are coming back alive from this.  So it comes down to Dan and Abra (who is only there mentally, projecting herself in a ghost like form) to take on Rose.  Dan has been carrying Conchetta’s “last gasp” the essence given off when she died ever since she passed.  They find the rest of the True, congregated into one room, just as Abra instructed Rose to leave them.  Dan releases Conchetta - her sickness, her cancer - into the room, and the True start dropping like flies.  At the meeting place, Rose is furious, she can feel her people dying. But it’s too late.  

Before he and Abra found the rest of the True, in a room inside his mind, Dan released the last of the ghosts that he had locked away from the Overlook, including one important one.  Some of the ghosts had disappeared completely, but two were still active - one goes for the True that Rose had hidden as an ambush.  The other is there when Dan and Abra face Rose.  It’s mostly a mental battle between them, but eventually Rose is flung off of the “roof of the world” the scenic overlook where they met to do battle.  She falls, breaking her neck, cycling out of existence.  Now the Knot is broken, except for the few that ran away rather than stay with Rose.  Although with the measles in their system, who’s  to say that they won’t perish as well.  Turns out the last ghost, the one that was the most helpful to Abra pushing rose off of the platform was the ghost of Jack, Dan’s dad.  As they walk away from the roof of the world, Dan sees him there, waving, finally at peace.

Now the epilogue.  Abra is 16, her power continues to grow.  Dan is still involved in her life, after all he is her uncle (for real).  Her parents find out that she had a drink at a party, and call him in to have the “drinking talk” with her.  He tells her the story of how his dad broke his arm once when drinking and cautions her to always remember that with her power she can do a lot more damage to someone than your average drunk.  Her temper is inherited, just like her shine.  Later at an AA meeting he finally confesses his rock bottom, something that he had refused to do publicly throughout the book.  Right before he settled in Frazier he had a one night stand with a woman named Deenie.  He woke up the next morning to find that he had blown all of his cash on cocaine with her.   He didn’t know it until that morning, but she had a little boy, a toddler, who he prevented from getting to the coke, which was just piled on the coffee table.  The baby thought it was candy.  He put the child in the room with his mom, stole what cash she had in her wallet, and high tailed it out of there.  Much later, thanks to his shine and his dreams he knew that the baby was beaten to death by Deenie’s brother, and that Deenie took a handful of pills and drowned herself in the tub.  

The dream that he had way back in the beginning, where he was warned about Rose the Hat? It was Deenie that warned him.  She and her baby have been haunting him throughout this book.  Now he finally confesses that to others, and is surprised to find that they don’t run from him in horror - they have done worse.  Funny how that happens.  Dan is still working at the Helen Rivington house, and still helping people to pass on.  Now that he has released his guilt over Deenie, he is given the chance to help the last victim of his anger, an orderly named Fred Carling.  Dan once beat him bloody for leaving bruises on one of the elderly patients of the Rivington House.  Fred’s not now, nor ever was a nice guy, but one day crossing the street to get a sandwich he is hit by a truck, and injured badly. He is on his way out, and Dan is sent for.  He helps him, telling him not to be afraid, that all he has to do is go to sleep.

Dan has finally found peace, all of the ghosts of his past laid to rest.   

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