Dr. Sleep by Stephen King, Review: Part 3 (for Part 1, click here)
Stephen King, you’re better than this! I found the whole second half of Dr. Sleep so predictable I felt like I had a case of the shining myself. I heard voices. I convulsed and drooled. Redrum! I saw confusing and disappointing images of the future. And I saw the ending coming a mile away. One of my biggest gripes? I feel Stephen King simply made Abra way too powerful. I’m hardly exaggerating when I say the villains get their asses KICKED at every turn. Mid-point onwards, I never again feared for Abra’s safety. Actually, the novel gets to a point where I started to fear for the villians. Oh, give them a break, I thought. Don’t bully them. Geez! They’re only trying to get food for themselves. So what if they happen to eat shining steam? Can they be blamed for that? Would you murder a pack of wolves for eating a moose in the wild?
Here’s what the villains’ relationship with Abra felt like, at least to me: imagine Stephen King’s Carrie, still drenched pig blood, facing off against the understandably pissed-off brothers and sisters of the kids she killed at the prom. They might be angry. They might even get organized, obtain solid leadership, weapons, and a well-put-together plan of attack. But, for us, it’s not a question about whether or not they’ll successfully avenge their siblings. It’s a question of how gruesomely Carrie will mutilate their bodies with her deadly mind powers. Because when it comes to the showdown, they are but piggies marching neatly to the slaughterhouse.
Spoiler Warning: In an uncharacteristic move, Stephen King doesn’t trouble himself to kill a SINGLE MAIN CHARACTER in this novel. That’s how impotent and incompetent the “monsters” are. With the exception of the one shining-kid who gets tortured to death, as well as an extremely old lady who would have died pretty soon anyway, the only people who die in this novel are the monsters themselves. And they freaking die in droves. It’s like a bloodbath in the wrong direction.
Don’t get me wrong. I do love Stephen King. But not unconditionally. Besides his undisputed classics—The Shining, It, ‘Salem’s Lot, the first four Dark Tower books, to name a few—I tend to only like his short stories and the first halves of many of his non-classic novels. In my humble opinion, Stephen King is simply not good at ending his books. At least not anymore. And by “ending,” I mean: fulfilling whatever intriguing promise stirred to life in the first half of the book. You can usually feel a definite switchover from the fresh, open-ended creativity King uses to flesh out his ideas; to the more labored, paint-by-numbers approach he uses once he realizes it’s time to stop having fun and to get down to work. And work is no fun at all! This is a formula he goes back to time and again. I’m not sure he realizes he has a novel-ending problem. In much the same fashion as Danny Torrance is an alcoholic, Stephen King is perhaps a “bad ending” addict. Really, I’d rather he release half-complete novels that totally leave you hanging than release what feels like a homework assignment he begrudgingly had to spend his whole weekend doing.
I call this phenomenon “going halfsies,” because the writer doesn’t seem aware of or concerned with the fact that his or her work exhibits a jarring deflation of creative energy starting at the halfway point. When going halfsies, the writer, the real writer, only shows up for the first half; and then, eyes rolling, he or she phones the rest of it in, methodically tying up loose ends that don’t necessarily have to be tied up in the first place. Stanley Kubrick never went halfsies. He kept the momentum going. Look at how he ended my favorite movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Look at how he ended his version of “The Shining.” Kubrick maintained mystery and ambiguity throughout the entirety of those movies. They ended not with any real answers but with more mind-tripping questions.
Dr. Sleep isn’t a terrible book. But it feels like Stephen King simply didn’t give it everything he had. It’s like he just got the idea in his head to write about RV-driving psychic vampires, and so he wrote a novel to sort of complement that admittedly nifty idea. The True Knot were fun and all, but I found nothing within the pages of Dr. Sleep to warrant the novel-sized sandbox King built for them to play in. I think the psychic vampires would have been more than happy with a short story. But yeah, Stephen King’s a nice guy. He decided to spoil them.
For part 2, click here.
And click the included link for an unaffiliated Dr. Sleep review.