Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dr. Sleep - The Verdict

I hate to say it....but the sequel to The Shining is quite dull.  The characters are vividly drawn, some of the ideas have merit, and the writing is strong as always, but the plot leaves much to be desired.  It all seems so...contrived.

King had a significant problem when he set down to write this book.  He had some ideas about what he wanted to do with character and theme, but it's quite clear he was making it up as he went along.

It seems like there are several places where he wrote himself into a hole and then cheated by using the magical powers of the Shining to get him out of it.  There are three threads to the book:  1)  Dan Torrance and his struggles with sobriety and finding redemption working at a hospice, 2) a girl named Abra who has the Shining times ten, and 3) a group of traveling monsters who torture and kill kids with the Shining to drink of their powers.

Normally what you would do with these elements is come up with an interesting way for them to collide, the collision creating tension, the tension creates catharsis, and so on.  You know, basic storytelling technique.

But King doesn't bother with any of that.  One day, Abra just started sending Dan psychic messages.  Why?  Because they have the Shining.

One day Abra becomes aware of Rose the Hat, the main villain in the troop of travelers, and in so doing, Rose the Hat becomes aware of Abra.  Why?  Because Abra has the Shining and Rose eats kids who have the Shining.

None of this stuff happens organically.  It's all contrived to happen because if it doesn't happen, there's no book.  And then to make matters worse, it's revealed that --unknown to both of them-- Abra is actually Dan's niece.

Consider:  Back before Jack Torrance took the job at the Overlook and moved his family to Colorado, he had an affair with a woman who turned out to be Abra's grandmother.  Abra's mother is actually Dan's half-sister that he --or his mother Wendy-- never knew about. 

This is not as bad a notion as it ends up being in the book.  In the book, it just seems tacked on and unnecessary, a way to explain Abra and Dan's seemingly inscrutable psychic connection.  But hell, man, why not lead with that?

What if it was revealed after the events of the first novel that Wendy was pregnant with Dan's sister, who grew up never knowing her father or experiencing the horrors of the Overlook?  What if Dan knew Abra was his blood from birth?  Would that have made their story less interesting?

I don't think so.  It would have eliminated the whole "How am I going to get them together" problem, eliminated all the fretting about how inappropriate it is for a grown man to be sending psychic instant messages to a teenage girl, and given Dan a rock-solid reason to want to protect Abra besides the fact that he's an alright dude.

If it sounds like I'm second-guessing the Master, I am.  The more I read of this book, the more it dawned on me that it's writer didn't outline the plot, wrote himself in a corner more than once, and rather than fixing the problem with editing just patched over it with more words.  If he wasn't the Master, someone probably would have pointed this out before the book was published.

And in case you were wondering, the ending seemed rushed and inevitable.  In other words, I didn't care what happened and when it was all over, I was left going, "That's it?" 

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