“And if you happen to be one of those unfortunate people who’s ever lost a kid — nothing left but a bike in the vacant lot down the street, or a little cap lying in the bushes at the edge of a nearby stream — you probably never thought of them. Why would you? No, it was probably some hobo. Or (worse to consider, but horribly plausible) some sick f--- from your very own town, maybe your very own neighborhood, maybe even your very own street, some sick killer pervo who’s very good at looking normal and will go on looking normal until someone finds a clatter of bones in the guy’s basement or buried in his backyard. You’d never think of the RV People, those midlife pensioners and cheery older folks in their golf hats and sun visors with appliquéd flowers on them.”
When the group learns of the existence of Abra, a little girl Dan has befriended who has extraordinary shining powers, they head out on a cross-country trip to New Hampshire to capture her. The bulk of Doctor Sleep is the kind of exciting and elaborate chase adventure King excels at crafting. But the author, who is now 65 and has perhaps grown kinder and less merciless with age, rarely writes novels these days that end with a devastating finale (think Cujo or The Dead Zone). You read Doctor Sleep in the same furious rush with which most people read The Shining, but the stakes are much lower, and the ending is never really in doubt.
And although the book contains some profoundly disturbing passages (including the Knot’s prolonged torture and murder of a little boy), Doctor Sleep is never all that scary. The book is best at depicting how even the most damaged people can rebuild their lives, as long as they are willing to put in the work - a theme that gives the novel an autobiographical air. The title refers to the job Dan gets at a hospice, where he uses his powers to help comfort the dying as they make their way into the afterlife. That may sound hokey, but King makes those sequences strangely affecting, even moving. In the latter stage of this remarkably prolific writer’s career, his trademark penchant for ghastly, bloody horror is gradually being overshadowed by humane, heartfelt compassion.
Rene Rodriguez is the Miami Herald’s movie critic.