Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I am the product of an abusive alcoholic father and family. This book and The Shining speak to me on an entirely other level. One with the puking, the violence, the rage, melancholy and moodiness, the fugues, the cruel silence with the banal abusive micro-aggressions, and on and on ad nauseam. I equate the shining with the non-verbal language and cues us codependents decipher and interpret in order to keep the peace. Or not get lit by a switch, a fist, or even worse, a gun.

Pet Sematary was the first novel I ever read by Stephen King. It was published the year my dad died. I was twelve. My best friend and cousin recommended the book to me not realizing what she precipitated as King, most likely, induced and exposed what festered creatively within—much to my delight and my family’s horror.

I will forever thank King and my cousin for that epiphany regardless.

There are a number of King’s books that don’t really appeal to me. Some are even fan favorites that I couldn’t quite get into for various reasons—mostly my own. There are, however, always bits of them that resonate. Deeply. Almost viscerally. To an alarmingly emphatic degree that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not one of those people that turns away in the face of discomfort. I believe if it bothers me or makes me uncomfortable, I have an obligation to examine it to see why. If not for my own sake then for those around me and society in general.

Recently, I took a part-time job as an associate in a library. Basically, all I did was shelve books and occasionally help out patrons. This was an—interesting experience. I had always venerated this institution and considered its hallowed halls holy and untainted; its caretakers unimpeachable. So, the thought of even one of its buildings being engulfed by dubiously principled unawares bourgeois white women never even occurred to me. I say this for a number of reasons and many examples; I’ll go into only the one anecdote in regards to this review.

One of my fellow associates commented on It then subsequently Doctor Sleep basically raging over the unrealistic brutalities perpetrated within its covers; essentially saying that authors shouldn’t bring such human horrors into existence because people would be more likely to act them out. This comment was specific to a number of domestically violent scenes in which children and women were present and brutalized and preyed upon. Nothing supernatural. Regular home-grown, old-fashioned human ugliness.

Reader, my jaw dropped to the floor.

Mind you, this same person was a Tesla-driving covert anti-vaxxer that dropped the cash on a new MacBook Air like it was a common everyday purchase—so the stereotype I formulated of her in and of itself was problematic to begin with. I’m unfortunately someone that’s doomed to try and understand where this type of distorted logic comes from so I can learn and empathize, and perhaps help us find our way to the facts of the situation. I am NOT, however, very good at it and should probably just walk away.

Nevertheless, I persist. Practice, practice, practice has always been a good creative work ethic seeing as how I’m ill-fated to live out my proletariat existence in the wasteland of mediocrity—never quite succeeding but always endeavoring awkwardly and unsatisfactorily.

I explained to this woman that while listening to It the audio book, I had to actually pause during one scene and take a breath because it triggered some latent PTSD from my childhood. Given that the scene in question was a domestic violence scene and I was middle-aged, I then proceeded to discuss how unsettled I was on how sheltered and unaware many people are from the actual realities and suffering of others, and how that suffering affected victims long-term over the course of their lifetimes, especially when children are the victims. I footnoted this with something about privilege—I don’t remember what exactly. On closing, I received a lot of open-mouthed, wide-eyed silence to which I went back to work shelving books on all those unrealized realities.

Stephen King has tapped into the darker side of the human experience and those unrealized realities that—as much as we deny or hate or sit in our own little bubbles of unawareness—exist. That he wraps those narratives around the supernatural does not diminish those truths anymore than I no longer deny living in my own bubble of unawareness about lots of things, including that of those supposed unimpeachable caretakers of the hallowed halls of our local libraries.

We all have our bubbles.

That’s why I love the library so much. It regularly leads to an awareness that the human experience manifests in the little things. Anecdotes and abstracts connected lead to all those unrealized realities and our bubble of unawareness gets a little smaller while our empathy and wisdom becomes a little greater.


I didn’t care for the recent movie interpretation of Doctor Sleep—too bleak. The novel was so much better.

“FEAR stands for fuck everything and run.”

“I changed it. I had to. Do you know why?” She studied him, her eyes grave. “Because that was then and this is now. Because the past is gone, even though it defines the present.”

“The silence wasn’t uncomfortable or hostile but exhausted–the quiet of people who have a great deal to think about but not a hell of a lot to say.”

“There came a time when you realized that moving on was pointless. That you took yourself with you wherever you went.”

“When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear. I was your teacher.”

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