Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, is a book to bring us all back to King. I don't know about you, but I haven't been reading his books lately -- and by lately, I mean for the last twenty years. There's a full bibliography here, and looking at it, I realized that the last book I really enjoyed was Dolores Claiborne in 1992. I read The Shining in my teens, along with Carrie and The Stand and Cujo and Pet Sematary and just about everything King published in the 1970s and 1980s.
What a homecoming Doctor Sleep is! It's the sort of book that makes you want to call in sick to work. For that matter, it's the kind of book that might make you feel a little sick. If King can set a scene in a bathroom, he will. If he can involve a toilet, it will be involved. If someone has to vomit, that person will vomit not only in a toilet, but on top of "a floating turd." In Danse Macabre, King talked about the difference between terror, horror, and the gross out, and he's not above the gross out, that's for sure. But, like The Shining, Doctor Sleep is not just gross; it's also deeply scary -- not only because of the supernatural elements, but because of the characters' all-too-human flaws.
I re-read The Shining in preparation for Doctor Sleep, and now that I'm an adult, the supernatural stuff in it seems almost throwaway. The truly scary stuff in that book is Danny's witnessing of the arguments between his parents, the potential in his father for violence, and the helplessness of his mother in the face of that violence. This time around, for me, the horror came more from the looming of divorce than the devil.
Doctor Sleep plays with the same kind of deep fears, but this time it's aging, death, and Danny's (inherited?) alcoholism waiting behind the door, not Jack with an axe. The fact that King has himself struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction makes the story that much more poignant and real.
Well done, King, and I can promise if you ever get around to a sequel to 'Salem's Lot, I'm in. (Maybe not so much for Christine 2, though.)