Life Was A Wheel, Its Only Job Was to Turn, And It Always Came Back Around to Where It Started

(Doctor Sleep)

Before this book came out, did you wonder a lot about what happened to Danny Torrance from The Shining? Because… I did not. Doctor Sleep is not a bad book and I don’t dislike it, but I do have to wonder why, of all the things, King chose to revisit this story so many years later, and not some other one. I mean, I have more questions about what happened to whatever was left of the Creed family after the events of Pet Semetary. The Shining felt wrapped up to me.

Which, as I said, doesn’t make the book bad. I actually liked it. Danny winding up as a hospice staff member and recovering alcoholic was… not what I pictured for him, but it made sense. I really liked Abra. King gets a lot of flack (at least some of it deserved, and sometimes from me) about how he writes women, but you can see a clear pattern of improvement if you follow his work from the beginning, and he actually may even do a better job with adolescent girls than he does with grown women. Maybe because he and his characters are less likely to sexualize them. One thing I really like is that with a few exceptions (I’m looking at you, Susan from ‘Salem’s Lot) his female characters aren’t damsels or decorations. Heroes, villains, main characters, side characters — they always seem to be fully fleshed out people with real motivations, strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, etc. That’s usually true even in the cases of characters who are unnecessarily sexualized or tokenized, but I feel like it’s on full display here with both Abra and Rose the Hat, without unneeded ruminations on the characters’ breasts. So that’s a plus.

I don’t think the True Knot was his best-conceived villain ever — I sort of think he just really wanted to use leftover carny-speak from Joyland; he really seems to like the word “rubes”. But if kids like this did exist, there would definitely be groups of people out there trying to grab them. Probably a bunch of people — our government, other governments, private researchers… and sickos who figured out, or thought they figured out, how to use those kids for their own ends in some way. Which is what True Knot is. He’d already kind of done the government groups trying to grab kids with Firestarter (and he’s going to explore that idea again soon enough) so I understand why he went this route. One of these days he should do one with a non-governmental science/research/tech group grabbing kids. Like, what would the Elon Musk of telekinetic children look like?

This book is also full of references. He really wants you to know that not only is this book connected to The Shining but it’s also connected to the greater King multiverse. This, of course, means The Shining is also connected, even though it was written before there was much of a multiverse to connect to. Which is maybe the point. Some of the references I noticed included:

  • Dick Halloran tells Danny about a man that Dick’s grandfather threatened him with, Charlie Manx. Who, incidentally, is not a Stephen King character, but a Joe Hill character. But Joe Hill’s writing is strikingly similar to his father’s, and I’ve read enough of his work to know that he doesn’t mind playing around in his father’s literary world, so it should probably not be surprising that it goes both ways.
  • It may be a bit of a stretch, but True Knot’s Jimmy Numbers refers to it as “a cash-and-carry world”. The only other place I know this phrase from is Storm of the Century. And really, isn’t Andre Linoge a little similar to the True Knot?
  • Abra reflects on dreaming about a one-eyed Raggedy Ann doll lying on the highway. This definitely evokes Desperation vibes. It’s not the doll from Desperation, that’s made clear, and I don’t think Melissa Sweetheart was a Raggedy Ann anyway. But that doesn’t stop the feeling.
  • Abra likes the boy band ‘Round Here. I’m pretty sure this is actually not a reference, at least not yet, but it will be. ‘Round Here is going to remain popular with adolescent girls and have a pretty significant concert in a future book.
  • Danny tells John, “There are other worlds than these.” If you know, you know.
  • Danny also frequently reflects on how life is a wheel. You know what else is a wheel? Ka. Of course, there’s no reason why Danny would know about Ka. But he seems to get awfully close to the concept anyway.

I have not seen the movie of this book, but it’s supposedly better than it had any right to be. As you may or may not know, the Stanley Kubrik version of The Shining differed from the book in some important ways, especially toward the end. Stephen King wrote Doctor Sleep as a sequel to his book, not to the movie. But when they wanted to make a movie of Doctor Sleep, they had to consider that movie audiences don’t entirely overlap with book audiences and there would be a significant portion of Doctor Sleep viewers who knew the story of The Shining through the movie only. So the movie of Doctor Sleep would have to be satisfying for movie-only people, but without unduly pissing off the book purists. On top of that, they almost certainly needed or at least wanted to make Stephen King happy, and he famously dislikes Kubrik’s version of The Shining. Too many callbacks to the movie could be perceived as a slight. By most accounts I’ve heard or read, the movie version of Doctor Sleep did actually walk this tightrope pretty well. It’s on my list of things I want to watch someday.

Speaking of Kubrik’s movie, in the author’s note at the end of this book, King mentioned that The Shining is one of the books his fans always mention as particularly scary. And then there’s this sentence. “Plus, of course, there was Stanley Kubrick’s movie, which many seem to remember—for reasons I have never quite understood—as one of the scariest films they have ever seen.” I don’t know if he actually doesn’t understand why people found the movie scary, or if this is just a dig at Kubrik’s movie (or at Kubrik himself, although by the time this book came out, Kubrik had been dead for well over a decade, so I don’t know what the point of that would be.) It struck me as funny, though.

One last thing I wanted to mention — this book is dedicated to Warren Zevon, a singer/songwriter who you may know best for such songs as “Werewolves of London” of “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”. He also appears occasionally joined The Rock Bottom Remainders, the revolving-member band of writers that included King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver, Mitch Albom, apparently Maya Angelou was an honorary member (I have no idea what that means and Wikipedia doesn’t explain) and a handful more names that you might or might not recognize. The group is disbanded now, as far as I know, although they did get back together at one point a few years after originally disbanding, so it might happen again, who knows? Anyhow, Warren Zevon passed away at some point before this book came out and got a very sweet dedication page. In it, King talks about Zevon encouraging him to sing lead on “Werewolves of London”. That got me curious, so I started searching the web to see if there was any visual or audio evidence of Stephen King performing “Werewolves of London”. That would certainly be worth seeing. I didn’t find it, but I did find a video of Zevon performing with some of the Rock Bottom Remainders, including King, at a Miami Book Fair in 1997. It’s fun and worth watching if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

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