(The Shining #2)
by Stephen King
Genre: horror, thriller, supernatural
Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”
Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.
The story starts out really depressing with Dan, the boy from The Shining, deep in alcohol addiction, drifting from job to job, town to town, slowly spiralling deeper into the gutter. Just when you think this will turn into a horror story about depression and alcoholism, he turns his life around. You breathe a sigh of relief, but then you learn more about the True Knot and know the fight between them is inevitable.
When Abra is born, it is clear that Dan will have a role to play in her life. Just the way their strong gifts pull them together, how Abra communicates with him on a subconscious level, tells you their fates are interconnected – just how much you find out in the latter part of the novel. Dan isn’t surprised at the messages he receives from time to time, and just rolls with this connection to a mysterious Abra, having learned to heed his gift and not fight it. He is surprised by her age though once he learns more about her, but he is far more concerned with doing a good job mentoring her than anything else. He know just how influential his own bond with Dick Hallorann was, so he honours his own mentor by doing all he can to protect Abra.
Abra is a fascinating character and I loved her even more than Dan in the first novel. She is still very much a child even though her strong gift has her grow up at an accelerated pace. She learns to downplay her powers to not scare her parents; who are amazing people by the way, and I just loved them for treating her like any other child. When was the last time you’ve read a book where a child protagonist has living and utterly amazing parents? It is so refreshing. I loved the spunky Momo, Abra’s great grandmother. She’s another character you’ll learn to love. King knows how to write female characters and he always delivers a variety of both good and bad people of either gender. As a woman I pay close attention to female characters, not that the men he writes are any less fascinating. And I really like the book for this balance.
Now Abra may have powers but she must deal with knowledge about life that is way too complicated for her age. Hse doesn’t always pick the easiest road to go and she might come off as stubborn, prideful, even vengeful. Her strong shining makes her experience the gruesome murder of a similarly gifted boy the True Knot murder for sustenance. This is a turning point for her both in her motivation to learn more about her gift and stop the group, but also by making her a target. The True Knot (and their leader Rose in particular) become obsessed with harnessing her immense gift, especially once members of their group start dying off mysteriously. It is a battle for survival and Abra may be their salvation. But they don’t count on her having an ally in Dan. King certainly does all to keep us at the edge of our seats.
Abra is wise enough to contact Dan once it is clear the True Knot has her in their sight. The partnership, even deep friendship that develops between them, is amazing. Dan knows just how much to reveal to help her cope with her gift and what to keep for the adults in her life to solve for her. She may be strong but she’s a child, a young teen, and she should not be the one fighting such a powerful group. Dan himself doesn’t know whether a fair fight is even possible.
The scary leader of True Knot has some serious beef with Abra after the girl fights off her psychic attack. Rose both fears and desires the girl, but ultimately she wants to destroy her before she turns too powerful. The True Knot might just try to turn Abra into one of them and Rose would lose her leadership; something this twisted woman can’t even contemplate. She’s also one of the villains I’d never wish to meet in any shape or form. The True Knot are some of the scariest villains you’ll encounter in literature, almost on par with Dracula on his home turf. They are so far removed from humanity while pretending to be the most average people that the creepy factor jumps up one level.
While the fight between good and evil is one of the central themes of the novel, other themes like addiction, family bonds, escaping past regrets, and other, are organically interweaved in the narrative. The book is therefore both a meditation on the nature of life and death, on morality, and on human connection and a story about crime and a hero’s journey. It is also a long journey back to where Dan’s troubles began – the Overlook. Dan may believe he has escaped it but the truth is the scary place is never far behind and just maybe Dan has to confront the past to secure his and Abra’s future.