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July 10, 2019

Doctor Sleep, aka I Miss the Overlook

by Alison DeLuca

The upcoming movie version of Doctor Sleep made me return to this novel. I bought it years ago, excited by a return to Danny Torrance and his Shining, now an adult. The cover was beautiful, the description compelling: Danny must save a 12-year-old girl from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

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cover of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, showing title in words made of steam
September 2013; Scribner; 978-1476727653
audio, ebook, print (531 pages); horror

There's even REDRUM written on the back of the book.

Alas, I lost interest after a few chapters. At the time, I wasn't sure why. The Shining drew me in completely when I read it years before. the idea of a little family snowed into a hotel with its ghosts.

Each character was fascinating. Wendy was an abused wife desperate to hang on to her toxic marriage. Jack Torrance, the former alcoholic and abuser, grimly fought his own demons. And Danny, the little boy with The Shining, explored the corridors of the deserted hotel as though it was his Narnia or Lilliput.

It made for a tight novel, one that evolved into a spiral of horror and character development.

Yet I started Doctor Sleep and lost interest. The book sat for years on my shelf, its beautiful cover gathering dust - that is, until I heard about the upcoming movie.

still from Doctor Sleep showing Ewan McGregor with REDRUM scrawled over a mirror
still from Doctor Sleep, the movie

The trailer looked interesting, especially with Ewan McGregor playing the main role of Danny Torrance. After I watched it, I remembered my old copy of Doctor Sleep and got it down from the shelf.

Full disclosure: still not as good as The Shining, and I think I've figured out why.

On the surface, the plot looks good: a group of travelers called the True Knot search for a substance called Steam. It's given off by those with paranormal powers, like Danny's Shining. But their supply has run dangerously low until they encounter a little girl called Abra whose Shining is stronger than Danny's ever was.

Hence, she has lots of Steam, and the True Knot want to harvest her.

This sets up Danny (who has inherited his father's drinking habit) as an anti-hero. There's a lot of soul-searching and mind-talking and...

Yeah. Just not feeling it.

The problem is that the plot is all over the place and on many levels. We look at Danny's rise from alcoholism, then his first job working for a little carnival, then his job working for a hospice. That's where he earns the name Doctor Sleep.

There are the True Knot characters, Rose the Hat and Barry the Chink. They're always on the road, traveling from one side of the country to the other.

And that's when it hit me. The freewheeling True Knot lifestyle mirrors the plot as it careens from one scene to the next.

Without the Overlook to corral its characters and plot, Doctor Sleep thins like melting snow. I missed the claustrophobic terror of The Shining, the creeping sense of dread as winter snowed in all three floors of the hotel and trapped the Torrance family inside.

In fact, even the upcoming movie of Doctor Sleep seems to miss its predecessor. Much of the preview shows flashbacks to The Shining instead of teasing the new plot.

I'll watch the Doctor Sleep film when it comes out. My hope is the director manages to draw the plot together into a better tale with King's undeniable mastery of character and horror.

Buy Doctor Sleep at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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  1. I NEED to reread these books soon!! I can't wait for the adaptation!

  2. great review and i agree, not as good as the shining
    sherry @ fundinmental