So first … a caveat. I almost never write book reviews. Think about it. As a novelist, when I write a review, that review arrives with a certain amount of baggage. And the questions that might crop up, as the review-train puffs into the station, can be excused as only human. Why did I write it? Am I propping up a friend? Dissing a competitor? Discharging some shadowy obligation?
So on this blog I feature new releases, and I mention them, and if the author is a personal friend, I mention that, too. But this is different. It’s a review from me, and suffice it to say, I am not blessed to call Stephen King a personal friend.
Having said that … for the last thirty years, you might say Danny Torrance has been a personal friend.
I read THE SHINING for the first time when I was 14. I re-read it several times during my teenage years. I can’t say precisely why, but THE SHINING was an intensely personal book for me. It taught me so much about writing characters, especially flawed, wounded, hopelessly striving characters. Because in many ways, it was more about poor, alcoholic, doomed-from-childhood Jack than his gifted five-year-old son, Danny.
Jack, a sensitive, intelligent child, watched his father, a hospital orderly and drunk, beat his mother at the dinner table until her eyeglasses landed in the mashed potatoes. That was the image that haunted Jack: those poor sightless specs, adorning a side dish while his alcoholic father vented his wrath. When he grew up, Jack escaped his dysfunctional family, teaching English at a prestigious prep school. even writing for publication.
But the ghosts of his past were not silent. They spoke. And Jack started to drink. The result–harm to a student, harm to his young son–drove him to take a last-chance job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. Another place filled with unquiet ghosts. Which ghosts were more real, and more deadly–the ones in the hotel, or the ones in Jack’s memory? That, dear reader, is up to you. (And if you’ve only seen the Stanley Kubrick film, I must urge you to read the original novel, because this review has nothing to do with Kubrick’s film. No disrespect intended, just a statement of fact.)
At any rate, most of the Western world has seen the movie, and knows Mrs. Torrance and her son Danny escaped the Overlook Hotel. But what happened next? Approximately thirty years later, Stephen King tells the tale.
Danny–now Dan– is twenty-something, beset by a terrible temper, and a drunk. The thing he swore he’d never become is the identity that consumes him. He drifts from town to town, content to deaden his telepathy (the shining) with booze, wishing himself dead. Then he hits bottom, a deeply humiliating bottom, and drifts to a town called Frazier, New Hampshire. There he has a chance to get sober, and to earn the friendship of a little girl called Abra. Once, Dan was the child in desperate need of an adult (Dick Hallorann) who understood. Now he is the adult called upon to help, and he can either live up to the calling or crawl back in the bottle.
I won’t waste time teasing you with further details. If you’ve read my description, you’re either in or you aren’t. All I can add is this. For approximately thirty years, I waited for news of Danny–Dan–Torrance, never expecting to get it. When I heard Stephen King had published a sequel, my first reaction was fear. This will ruin my vision of Danny’s future, I thought. It won’t be right.
But no. It was perfect. Perfectly conceived, perfectly edited, and perfectly laid down. If you loved THE SHINING half as much as I did, get yourself a copy of DOCTOR SLEEP.