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.
We all have those books we read when we were young, that have stayed with us over the years. The ones that have touched and marked us so irrevocably, that years later you can still feel echoes of the emotions you experienced while nose deep, at all hours of the night because you couldn’t put it down. The Shining is that book for me. Terrified, is a word that comes to mind. Enthralled. It was also my first foray into a Stephen King novel, and the beginning of a life-long appreciation for his prolific talent and his twisted imagination. His ability to take everyday things…cars, dogs, proms, clowns…and turn them into our greatest fears.
Confession. I purchased Doctor Sleep the instant it was available, had it downloaded and ready to go. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to click on my Kindle app and delve into the pseudo pages. I was too anxious, the indelible angst I had felt when reading The Shining had made me gun shy for the sequel. However, I finally found my big girl pants and started reading one night…armed with a bottle of red…and found that it was not at all what I was expecting.
The book starts off where The Shining ended, Danny and his mother, Wendy, survivors of the horrors of The Overlook Hotel and a father driven to madness. Only the nightmare doesn’t end, though the hotel is gone. With the help of Dick Hallorann, Danny learns to cope with his ability and to lock away the specters that still haunt him.
Fast forward to Dan, the adult, and we find that he is not, in fact, coping so well. Like his father, Dan has a taste for whiskey, and the relief it brings him from his mind and what is locked away inside. Dan is an alcoholic. He is a drifter, wandering from town to town, making just enough money to bridge him from one cheap bottle to the next. However, we all know you cannot outrun the demons in your head, and eventually Dan hits rock bottom, with devastating consequences to a young woman and her child.
Dan finally stops drifting, settles in a small town that just feels ‘right’ and gets the help he needs through Alcoholics Anonymous. He also finds his life calling, working in a hospice. Using his ability, ‘the shining’, Dan helps the elderly and sick when it is their time to go, so that they may pass from this world to the next without fear.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Sì, I know that. I’m so glad you come. Tell me again your name, signor.”
“Sì. You are a gift from God, Daniel Torrance. Sei un dono di Dio.”
Dan hoped it was true. “Will you give to me?”
“Sì, of course. What you need per Abra.”
“And I’ll give to you, Chetta. We’ll drink from the well together.”
She closed her eyes.
“You’ll go to sleep, and when you wake up—”
(everything will be better)
The power was even stronger than it had been on the night Charlie Hayes passed; he could feel it between them as he gently clasped her hands in his and felt the smooth pebbles of her rosary against his palms. Somewhere, lights were being turned off, one by one. It was all right. In Italy a little girl in a brown dress and sandals was drawing water from the cool throat of a well. She looked like Abra, that little girl. The dog was barking. Il cane. Ginata. Il cane si rotolava sull’erba. Barking and rolling in the grass. Funny Ginata!
Concetta was sixteen and in love, or thirty and writing a poem at the kitchen table of a hot apartment in Queens while children shouted on the street below; she was sixty and standing in the rain and looking up at a hundred thousand lines of purest falling silver. She was her mother and her great-granddaughter and it was time for her great change, her great voyage. Ginata was rolling in the grass and the lights
(hurry up please)
were going out one by one. A door was opening
(hurry up please it’s time)
and beyond it they could both smell all the mysterious, fragrant respiration of the night. Above were all the stars that ever were.
He kissed her cool forehead. “Everything’s all right, cara. You only need to sleep. Sleep will make you better.”
Then he waited for her final breath.
It is also becomes apparent that there was a reason he felt a pull to settle in the town he did. As Dick predicted, the time had come when Dan was to take on a pupil of his own. A mentor to another with ‘the shining’. Abra, however, is in a league all her own. Her powers are much greater than that of Dan, Dick and any other person Dan has encountered over the years. Through her incomparable ability, she is witness to the murder of a young boy, and ends up on the radar of a transient group who have a power of their own. The are an ancient people, the True Knot, led by the beautifully terrifying, Rose the Hat. Seemingly innocuous RVer’s, they travel across America, feeding in a psychically vampiric manner off of our fear and terror. Their true sustenance, that which keeps them young, they call ‘steam’. It comes from those with powers such as Dan and Abra, and Abra is the find of their ancient lives. Rose the Hat will stop at nothing to obtain Abra, and Dan is her only hope of survival.
Whether Stephen King’s novels appeal to you or not, there is no denying that he is a master wordsmith. This book was not the horrifying read I anticipated, and in hindsight, I realize that he was smart in not attempting to top The Shining, instead, taking it into a different direction altogether. This book once again shows the grasp King has on our humanity, our hopes and our fears. His own well known history of alcoholism and substance abuse lends a sincerity to Dan’s addiction and his tenuous hold on sobriety that reminds us that not all horrors are supernatural. Simply living, growing from a child to adulthood, can be terrifying all on it’s own.