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Sunday, November 3, 2013

DOCTOR SLEEP: A NOVEL (Sequel to The Shining) (audiobook) by Stephen King

      A Tour De Force

Published in 2013 by Simon and Schuster
Read by Will Patton 
Duration: 18 hours, 35 minutes

I am an occasional reader of Stephen King. When I was younger I used to be an enthusiastic fan of all things Stephen King, but I took a break (about 15 years) and have slowly come back to the Stephen King fold, picking through some of what I missed, listening to his short stories as audiobooks and sometimes reading a book as it comes out. In this case, I am very glad that I did not hem and haw over this one. It is a tour de force of how to write horror, human frailty, human resilience and the power of friendship and love. Throw in the amazing performance by reader (and veteran actor - he is the coach in high school football movie Remember the Titans) Will Patton and this audiobook is an experience that must not be missed.

Stephen King
As already noted in the title of this review, Doctor Sleep is the sequel to the classic novel The Shining. I read it many, many years ago and decided NOT to re-read it before I listened to the audiobook. If you have not read the book in a while or even just saw the movie,  King provides enough background material for the reader to piece it together.

The child protagonist of The Shining, Danny Torrance, returns in Doctor Sleep. In his author's notes after the book King notes that he is often asked what he thinks happened to the kid from The Shining and he found himself wondering how he character would react to the horrific events that happened in the book.  He has .psychic powers that his mentor called "the shining." Danny can see certain spirits, he can tell when someone is going to die and he can communicate with only his mind if the other person also has "the shining."

Having this talent takes a tremendous toll on Torrance and, like his father before him, he turns to alcohol to quiet the voices and dull its abilities so that he can sleep. Soon enough, like his father before him, he becomes a violent alcoholic who cannot keep a job and he just rolls from town to town, getting work when he can and moving on when the alcohol gets in the way. He hits a low point when he wakes up in a stranger's apartment after a one night stand and he steals all of the cash from her purse even though he knows she has a little boy in diapers. At least he moves the cocaine out of his reach before he runs off with the rent money!

Dan ends up in New Hampshire and meets a couple of older gentlemen. One offers him a job, the other introduces him to Alcoholics Anonymous and helps Dan get sober. Dan eventually gets a different job at the local hospice and he uses his special talents to help dying guests pass over easier. He earns the nickname Doctor Sleep because word of his talent spreads among the residents and nurses of the hospice. The three scenes in which King describes what Torrance does with these patients as they pass away are quite beautiful.

What Stephen King does best is create characters. Dan Torrance is described in such approachable detail that the reader (listener, in my case) feels like he is real. At his lowest, the reader feels a level of both pity and disgust for Torrance. But, as he begins to pull his life together the reader feels like Danny is redeemed in some sort of way. I felt like I had been to the bottom with Torrance and had now come through the worst of it. This would have been a great story if this is all there were.

But, Stephen King does not leave it there. He makes you love a character (or a bunch of them) and then he makes you worry over them as horrific things come at them from all over the place and try to kill them. 

In Doctor Sleep the monsters are a group of psychic vampires called the True Knot. They travel the highways of America looking for children with "the shining." They capture them and slowly kill them and absorb their life essence as it slowly ebbs from their damaged bodies. They can live for hundreds of years and they look the same as everyone else. They have also targeted a twelve year old girl who lives in a town near Dan Torrance's and when she contacts him he knows that he must confront an evil that he has never imagined.

Will Patton
Will Patton read this book. Saying he read this book is really an insult to what he did with the material. A great audiobook reader can turn so-so material into a good story. A good story can make a so-so reader sound good. In this case, Patton is an amazing reader with an excellent story. Patton performs almost every sentence of an eighteen hour plus audiobook with such skill, such a solid feel for the story that I can honestly say that I have not heard anything better in ten years of listening to audiobooks. I have reviewed almost 250 audiobooks and I can unequivocally say that this was the best performance I have ever heard on an audiobook. The accents, the pacing, the nuances were all perfect. Whether he is voicing an elderly black man from Florida or a crusty old New Englander or an evil woman who likes to torture young people for their souls or a middle school girl or an old Italian grandmother or a panicked small town mom - he nailed it. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Doctor Sleep

Reviewed on November 3, 2013.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program. 

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