Monday, January 6, 2014

Doctor Sleep

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
John 8:7

Far be it from me to criticize the work of one of the best American authors of the last hundred years... but I'm going to anyway.

(Warning: spoilers, spoilers everywhere...)

When I heard that Stephen King was, after over 30 years, finally publishing a sequel to his classic The Shining, I was excited. Unhealthily excited. As a matter of fact, that phrase might be an understatement. I reacted with the inappropriate level of enthusiasm that some of my adult friends displayed upon the release of every new Harry Potter book. Despite my euphoria, I had to wait patiently for over a year from the time the announcement was made to its actual release date and then had to stay composed for another torturous period of time as I was too busy to give it the attention it deserved... until the holidays.

So, like a child at Christmas, I ran into Barnes and Noble at my first commit-able moment and bought it!

My patience was rewarded through the first hundred pages or so... as Doctor Sleep begins a few years after Danny "Doc" Torrance, his mother Wendy and his Shining friend/mentor Dick Hallorann escape the clutches of The Overlook Hotel and the troubled/haunted Jack Torrance. THIS was why I bought the book! What happened to Danny and co.?  How do you possibly go on after such a profound and terrifying experience? Give me more!

Flash forward to a few chapters and decades in... Danny is now Dan. And much like his father, Dan has become a raging alcoholic- picking fights in bars and waking up next to unnameable, strung-out women before reaching his "rock bottom." Dan begins to try to change his life. He enters AA and begins to win over his old demons, when an old "friend" inexplicably shows itself... The Shining.

My excitement grew... THIS was what I wanted from a sequel to the original!

Enter Abra Stone. A few hours away from the New Hampshire town where Dan now resides, a little girl is born. A girl with powers that not only match Dan's but far exceed them.

Enter The True Knot. A group of geriatrics with supernatural powers that travel the country and feed off children who have either The Shining or something close to it.

What follows in the rest of Doctor Sleep is a truly unworthy follow-up to his masterpiece The Shining. The True Knot makes for quite possibly the least frightening villains of all time, while Abra- an annoying character who bounces back from being an innocent little girl to a girl with a mouth that would make Reagan McNeill blush- not only usurps Dan in the importance of the story but also reduces him in the story's climax to an Also-Ran.

Even The Shining... the powers that Dan and now Abra possess go from being believable and seemingly grounded in some reality, to being some fantastic all-encompassing wizard-like ability that does not ring true for one solitary moment.

Additionally, all reference to the original work after the first few chapters feels tacked on and disjointed. In what I can only consider a MORTAL sin in King Lore, one of Dan's tormenters from his days at The Overlook Hotel actually SAVES him at the end... a move that is as unmotivated and ridiculous as it could possibly be.

In his author's note, Stephen King warns against comparing this book to Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining (and simultaneously gets a proper little dig in at the late director). Well worry not Stephen, for I am as well-versed in your novel as I am the movie... and I still did not like your sequel.

He also references the movie Psycho and its "only brilliant sequel"- Mick Garris's Psycho IV. I find it interesting that he does this... what made Psycho IV a somewhat worthy (I would never call it brilliant because of its low production value) sequel is because- unlike the other sequels- it was not an attempt at capitalizing on the original's shock value but an attempt to show Norman Bates's struggle with himself and his humanity.

THAT is what the sequel to The Shining should have been!!! The original book focused on Jack Torrance- a good but extremely flawed man who was tempted by and ultimately succumbed to demons- his and The Overlook's.  What I wanted to see from Doctor Sleep was Danny Torrance- now grown and wrestling with his own demons.

Would he suffer the same fate as Jack Torrance?
Would his alcoholism and inability to control his own life overtake him in such spectacular fashion?
And if so, would Danny be able to use The Shining to his aid... or would it only increase the wattage of the terror he could cause?

If you advertise that you've written a sequel to The Shining, this is what we expect.

BUT Doctor Sleep was about The Shining... and it wasn't at all.

It was about Danny Torrance- now grown into a broken, shell of a man... and it wasn't at all.

It was about The Shining- the special powers that were both terrific and horrific at once... and it wasn't at all.

It was about Danny, having outrun his demons before, now facing them once and for all... and it wasn't at all.

I'm going to assign to Doctor Sleep the same fate I dealt to the Halloween movie franchise. The original was a classic in a league of its own, while Halloween 2 was decent enough yet contained new information that actually made the original a little more frightening. And finally H20, released in the 90s, rounded out the story of the first two films to make it a nice, well-done trilogy. All of the other movies in between and after do not, in my mind nor in my wallet as a consumer, exist.

The Shining and the story of the Torrances will, in my my mind, just have to remain complete once The Overlook Hotel burned to the ground; and Doctor Sleep, I'm afraid, will just have to be shut and locked away in some shiny metal box in the deepest corners of my mind.

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