Wednesday, September 25, 2013

REVIEW: Doctor Sleep

A lousy sequel takes the first iteration as a formula and repeats it. Basically, the poor suckers in the audience pay good money to read the book they've already read or see the movie they've already seen, with some lame new spin on it. John McLean is back, only this time, the terrorists are aliens! Contrariwise, a good sequel takes the first iteration as a jumping-off point. It shows you something new. French Connection II took Popeye Doyle to Marseilles. Where Alien was a claustrophobic story in a bottle, Aliens was a war. Not a lame new spin, but an honest new story in new territory. That's the way it's done. Or should be.

Stephen King's Doctor Sleep shows us exactly how it's done. King, as Harlan Ellison once pointed out, never cheats his audience. He promises. He delivers.

He delivers now.

Doctor Sleep is a "sequel" to The Shining. (Which, coincidentally, was also a bottle story. Jack, Wendy and Amy Torrance, bottled up in a hotel full of hungry ghosts, bad mojo and no booze.) King already told that story. He doesn't repeat himself. Doctor Sleep ain't no bottle story. It's a road trip, baby.

King, as any honest writer should, started with a character (Danny Torrance) and a situation (Danny's "shining" ability and the legacy of his father's alcoholism) and asked "What would happen next?" Doctor Sleep is his honest answer to that question.

Danny, now Dan, becomes an alcoholic, hits bottom, then (unlike his white-knuckle, dry-drunk dad) finds AA. He thereupon finds a meaningful life guiding the clients of a hospice to the great beyond. (Hence his unofficial title: Dr. Sleep.) All is well, until Dan discovers (via telepathy) a 13-year-old kid (Abra) with more shining ability in her little toe than he ever had in his whole body. Problem is, she's being hunted by a sick gang of life-force vampires who call themselves "The True Knot." Yep. Some of those old-fart retiree chumps in RVs blocking the passing lane on I-75 are, in fact, the paranormal equivalent of the Charlie Manson Family. The life force they need (which they call "steam") is found only in kids with the shining--whom they torture to death, before they feed.

Hannah Arendt talked about the banality of evil. King shows you. These bastards are a self-centered, narcissistic, hedonistic, petty, self-contained family with their own carny-derived lingo and superior attitude. (Vampires, whether blood or life-force drinkers, piss me off, OK? The vampire is the ultimate symbol of users and manipulators--people who need people, as food. There's nothing !@# romantic about a !@# vampire, OK? Vampires suck.) King, evidently, agrees with me on this score.

No worries. The True Knot get theirs. It's a ripping yarn.

Though don't start reading it if you plan to get a good night's sleep.

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