First: have no fear. There will be no spoilers in this review. Not even itsy-bitsy ones. I have every intention of writing a gloves-off review, but I think I'll give it a week or so, and let a few more people play catch-up with me. (The interim seems like an excellent time to bounce back over to You Only Blog Twice and hammer out a review of Licence to Kill.) But for now, if you've merely come here looking for a thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down from me, that's exactly what you'll get from this.
But first, time for me to be self-indulgent and write about myself for a while. Sorry about that, but it's what self-involved people do, and so it's what I'm going to do tonight. Not at length, though; and if you want to just skip to the opinionating, scroll down until you find the photos, and start reading from there.
There was a time when I wasn't as zealous a King fan as I am today. These days, what happens when a new King book comes out is this: when I found out the release date, I put in for PTO (that's Paid Time Off, for those of you who might not know) for that day, and typically for a day or two afterward. On occasion, I end up not getting to take the time off (that happened with Joyland), but typically, I do. So, when the release day rolls around, I will get up in the morning -- I say "morning," but since I am nocturnal, it sometimes turns into afternoon -- and go to Barnes & Noble or Target or (shudder) Walmart, wherever seems most convenient to the day at hand, and buy a copy. Then, I'll go home, start reading, and generally continue reading until I can't keep my eyes open.
I'll squeeze a meal or two in there somewhere, and probably a shower, and probably a few brief internet sessions. Last night, I interrupted things for over an hour so as to watch the series premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. (It was a little on the underwhelming side, by the way; not so much so that I won't be back next week, but underwhelming nevertheless.) My cats love it when this happens. Reading time is PRIME lap-time for cats, and so King-release days always equal hours of lap-time.
It hasn't always been like that. I've been trying to mentally track the evolution of what seems like mildly -- and you can possibly scratch the "mildly" -- compulsive behavior, and I can't quite figure out its genesis. Now, just so we're clear, when I indicate that I feel it is compulsive behavior, I'm not claiming to have OCD in any sort of clinical sense. I don't. At least, I don't think I do. Either way, I don't see it as a problem. Fannish behavior of that nature is often looked at askance by people who don't quite get it. These are often the same sort of people who insist that their lawn be mowed once a week whether it (strictly speaking) needs it or not, or who insist that everything in the house get dusted once per week. Or who will put life on pause when their favorite football team is playing. Why do they do those things?
Because doing those things makes them happy. The reasons for that being the case are their own, and maybe they care about the specifics and maybe they don't, and maybe we care about them and maybe we don't...but in the end, I think that's always what it amount to. Such things happen because they are happiness-generators.
My stance is this: Stephen King is my favorite writer. He has released a lot of books, and I've read all of them, and I can count on maybe the number of fingers Roland has left after meeting the lobstrosities the number of those books that I didn't enjoy reading. And even those, I enjoyed at least a little bit. The rest of them, I enjoyed quite a lot. So when a new Stephen King book comes out, why on Earth would I not want to start reading it immediately?
But in trying to trace the history of it becoming a formalized thing as it has, I can't quite figure out the when of it. I think I can say with reasonable certainty that I was buying and reading them on release day as early as Dreamcatcher, but I think it might go back even a bit farther than that. Either way, I know definitively where it wasn't happening: Hearts In Atlantis was released in September of 1999, and I did not read it until Christmas of that year. I can't remember why that would be the case, but 1999 was not a good year for me, so it almost certainly had to do with the reasons why that was the case. (I'm being vague here, and that's because there's no need for this post to devolve in melodrama.)
And now, a suspicion begins to present itself, one which looking back on 1999 helps to clarify. King released three books that year: the screenplay of Storm of the Century came out in February, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon in April, and Hearts In Atlantis in September. The first, I got (and read) more or less immediately upon release; I got the Book-of-the-Month Club edition, the only hardback version to be published. The second, I picked up somewhere locally, and I believe I remember reading it more or less immediately upon release, too.
A lot happened between those releases and Hearts In Atlantis, though. I had some melodrama, and King himself had some flat-out drama, nearly losing his life in the process. I can remember being upset by that accident, but I also remember being too preoccupied with my own garbage to get really upset about it. Or, it seems, to read the new book when it came out late that summer.
Casting my mind back to Christmas of 1999, I begin to dimly remember that that Christmas -- spent at my grandparents' house -- took on an air of me returning to myself. I'd gotten over most of the melodrama, to the extent I ever would; and I'd gotten away from it proximity-wise, in any case. I'd taken Hearts In Atlantis with me, and I remember sitting awake with it while everyone else in the house was asleep and reading by Christmas-tree light, munching on peanut brittle, feeling more myself than I'd felt in months.
So...is that it? Did that few days bring home in some way a fact: that when I'm reading a Stephen King book, I am, in some odd but essential way, more in some way? I think that could be it.
But lest that sound weird, consider that it's possibly the same for the guy who wants to get Grand Theft Auto V the day it comes out and play it for hours on end; or for the guy who has a specific date that we wants to take the tarp off the pool every spring and refill it; or for someone who goes to the grocery store every Thursday afternoon like clockwork.
It's an addiction, see.
But not all addictions are bad. Some of them, I think, are pretty great.
Doctor Sleep is all about some of the less beneficial forms of addiction. I don't think it's a spoiler to inform you that the novel is about Danny Torrance, who is now all grown up. Dan Torrance is the result of that aging process, and Dan Torrance has some of the same problems his father, Jack, had. And as it turns out, the shining doesn't do a whole hell of a lot to help with that.
The bulk of the novel is devoted to Dan's friendship with -- and mentorship of -- a teenage girl who has the shine, as well. Her name is Abra Stone, and she is even more powerful than Danny himself used to be. This is not good, because she comes to the attention the book's villains: the True Knot, a traveling clan of somewhat vampiric beings who roam the country in RVs, posing as retirees. But what they really do is find people who have the sort of talents Danny and Abra possess; some of them they turn in members of their not-quite-human race, but most they feed on. They don't drink blood, though; they inflict pain, which causes the victims to emit something called "steam." The steam nourishes the True Knot, reinvigorates them; one of their number who appears 65 might appear 45 again after taking steam. And Abra, as powerful as she is, is too tempting a target to resist; if a normal child with the shine is a flashlight, Abra is like a lighthouse.
I wouldn't even consider giving more than that away.
So, the million-dollar question: is Doctor Sleep good?
You bet your ass it is. There will undoubtedly be some purists who insist that it tarnishes the legacy of the original, one of the best-loved novels of the twentieth century. I'd argue that not only does it not tarnish that legacy, it deepens it. Doctor Sleep is a terrific novel. I've got a few slight reservations, which, I suppose, could become magnified into major reservations on a reread. Is that a possibility? Sure it is. But I can't talk about most of them without delving too deep into spoiler territory, so they'll have to wait until the next review; and anyways, they are all minor reservations at worse. At least for now, and I expect them to remain that way.
Another million-dollar question: is Doctor Sleep as good as The Shining? For me, that's a no. But I think it ranks comparably to most of King's other top-notch works, like Joyland and Duma Key and 11/22/63, and that, friends, is pretty damn good.
Another question: is it scary? You know...I'm not sure it is. It has a few creepy moments, to be sure, but overall, I'm not sure I'd even classify it as a horror novel. This, again, is for reasons I can't quite get into, but the short-hand version might go something like this: Dan Torrance isn't as easily scared as Danny Torrance used to be, so the focus is different. This might bother some people, I guess. It didn't bother me.
The bottom line is this: I spent the better part of two days (the waking hours of them, at least) sitting in one chair, with a series of cats curled up on my lap, doing little but reading one book and fielding the occasional phone call. I didn't feel bored at any point. I didn't feel tempted to go do anything else (except take a brief trip to my parents' house and watch that S.H.I.E.L.D. show with them). My attention didn't wander, which it has been known to do even when I'm reading a book I enjoy. Nope; it was just me and that book and some cats, and it all seemed like a pretty damn fine use of time for all involved.
In the end, what better experience can you ask for?
Be back in a few days with a longer look, one which goes to the spoilery places this one avoided. See you then!