Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #161: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

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“That’s a good book, by the way,” a coworker told me as he passed by and saw me holding Doctor Sleep. In response, I gave him what I can only think to describe as a sort of grunt. By then, I’d read enough to learn otherwise. When my Google search for reviews turned up this, one which has the audacity to put Doctor Sleep and his death-sniffing pussy, Azzie, on a pedestal above The Shining, well I…

Cover-wise, sure. When popcultureboy used the alternative cover with Azzie for his review, awful in comparison, I wanted to call him out for it. Then again, it is more in line, quality wise, with the writing in Doctor Sleep. Like with Under the Dome, this is a case of the book not being worthy of the cover.

For that matter, King couldn’t think of a more fitting title? Dan does come to be referred to as “Doctor Sleep.” What he does for the dying patients at the hospice is never truly clarified, at least not to my satisfaction, but he does do something, and Doctor Sleep is what they get to calling him because of it. Is any of this crucial in any way to the story, though? Disregarding his illuminating death-bed conversation with one person of special importance, no. Does it make for an interesting title out of context, the sort that his publishers probably love? Of course. But I doubt King has to answer to anyone on anything, least of all the title. Thus, I assume he chose it himself, and so I say to him “you can do better.” Then I remember that he never has been good with titles. Dan’s “shining” didn’t play as big a role in The Shining as you’d expect either, given the title. In fact, that would’ve been better served as a title for this sequel, given we learn that seemingly half the world’s population has a little “shine” in them.

Think of it this way. If J.K. Rowling wrote a sequel series to Harry Potter where a large portion of the wizarding population was surviving the killing curse ala Harry Potter, Harry starts to lose his luster, and you realize, besides the whole “chosen one” deal, he was actually one of the wizards least deserving of being deified. Without Ron and Hermione, among many others, Harry would’ve been woefully outclassed. Likewise, it’s not until Dan joins forces with Abra (an even worse name than Doctor Sleep), that he poses a threat to anyone besides himself (and young children looking for a fix). By calling this book Doctor Sleep, King gives readers the impression that this is Dan’s story, when I’d argue it’s more about Abra, if you’re going to pin it on one character specifically. She‘s the protagonist. She‘s the one who’s actions move the plot forward. Dan’s simply along for the ride, mentoring Abra like Dick mentored him.

Neither of them undergo a worthwhile character arc, though. Dan goes from “rock bottom” to 10+ years of sobriety seemingly in an instant, with there never being a moment in which I feared a relapse. And Abra is just Dan 2.0, now with better looks and womenergy!

 

 

And The True Knot, so pathetic King couldn’t even think up a menacing name for them, want to drink her milkshake right up. Unfortunately for them, it ends up bringing all the boys to the yard, and those boys have guns. Also unlucky for them, they are still, generally speaking, human and so those boys don’t even need to stock up on special bullets to take down King’s obvious vampire stand-ins. Yeah, he’s not even shy about telling the reader they’re just a shittier vampire. You know, by having characters outright call them vampires at times. The only advantage they have over vampires is their skill set. Not that they know how to wield it; The True Knot are like vampires… on steroids… as played by Charlie Chaplin.

Oh, one of their members can go (more or less) invisible? We’ll wait until the very end to even mention that, and then nothing will come of it. Oh, we finally get the epic showdown between Abra and Rose the Hat (honestly, the names in this story make Albus Severus Potter look like a sensible name for a kid) we’ve all been waiting for? Yes, but drop the “epic” from that sentence; suffice it to say, this is no Dumbledore versus Voldemort, nor is it even Harry versus Voldemort. It’s more like Voldemort versus, I don’t know, Dobby, and the whole book you’re like the guy in the theater when I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: “Dobby gunna die! Dobby gunna die!” Even if Abra doesn’t do the deed herself, they’re going to die anyway. Apparently, despite being around for seemingly forever, they’re a case of the measles, or a little girl who’s seemingly named Abra just for the eventual punchline of her email address being “cadabra@whatever,” away from dying a quick and painful death. All of a sudden, death by garlic sounds positively noble.

Clearly then, the draw here has to be something besides them facing off against The True Knot. Except, what else is there to be had? All I’ve got is Abra’s pursuit for acceptance. She makes believe she’s normal for the sake of her parents, and it’s only when they come to terms with what she is that she can truly be herself. If King had put all the emphasis on that, and if his characters weren’t either flat, in the case of her parents, or fake, in the case of Abra (no amount of TV references will make Abra into a believable 12 year old). As is, it’s just one of the many promising storylines that’s downplayed in favor of this business with The True Knot. Like the connection Dan discovers between himself and Abra. King just schleps it out with next to no warning, this huge revelation, and expects me to roll with it? You can fucking forget that. It doesn’t help that it too would appear to all be working towards another limp-dick punchline. “Rememer when *yadda, yadda.* Isn’t that just hilarious in hindsight!?” No, King, it really isn’t.

None of Doctor Sleep is; usually, even when I find the story and/or characters lacking, as I did in, say, Carrie or The Dead Zone, the down-home charm of his writing makes up for it, but not here. Abra comparing herself to Daenerys Targaryen is what’s supposed to pass as humor in Doctor Sleep? For me, lines like that just ruined it even more, because they reminded me of everything Doctor Sleep is not. Daenerys and Abra both pose bigger threats than one would think, just looking at them, but Abra is still an immature kid, and she’s yet to face any real adversity. I root for Daenerys to make good and win the Iron Throne not because “fuck yeah, dragons,” but because she’s more than the dragons, whereas Abra isn’t more than her powers.

Without them, she has no other defining characteristic, nothing that makes me care the least bit about her plight. Daenerys, on the other hand, is the sort of character who demands and, more importantly, earns respect. She’s cunning, using everything at her disposal to get what she wants, whether it be her looks, her dragons, you name it. Abra has no such abilities; she’s not the brains of this operation. She doesn’t engineer her own victory; instead, she, like Harry Potter, rides the coattails of those more capable than herself. The difference is, as far as the power dynamic is concerned, she’s Lord Voldemort and The True Knot is Harry Potter, just fighting to survive.

Better yet, Abra is Emperor Palpatine, Rose the Hat is Darth Vader, and the rest of The True Knot are Storm Troopers, just as easily expendable as the Red Shirts in Star Trek, except they look just threatening enough to trick you into thinking otherwise. Anyway, what I’m getting at with all this rambling of mine is that, for the seemingly universal hate Iron Man 2 gets for, among other things, it’s “anticlimactic” (I disagree, hence the quotes) final showdown, Doctor Sleep should be reviled the world round. The ceaseless battle between good and evil has never been staged in duller fashion. It also did for people with the “shining” what Twilight did for vampires, failed to engender sympathy for (or interest in) any of its characters (minus Dan), and was poorly written by King’s generally high standards. In short, I’m sorry King, but I would’ve sooner trusted Stanley Kubrick, whose movie you took yet another shot at in the afterword, to author a sequel to The Shining than you, if this was the best you could manage, and I only hope you leave it here and don’t give us the continuing adventures of Abra fucking Cadabra. Please, have it in your heart to at least spare me that.

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