Everyone has different relationships with particular authors. There are a few authors that have left bad tastes in my mouth and I now I simply can’t read them, and there are others that I’ve simply let slip away due to changing interests. For me, Stephen King’s constant outpour of books left me bored and distracted as a teenager and I left him on my bedside table with all my other adolescent reading. But when Dr. Sleep appeared on the book shelves, my curiosity was ignited. Not only was the old horror-genre fanatic in me curious, but the feminist in me was too. I loved King’s portrayed of Wendy Torrance in the Shining, and loved it even more that King thought that the Kubrick’s film adaptation didn’t do her justice. So when I heard we’d be delving back into the world of the Shining, I couldn’t resist picking it up.
Even though I tend to either devote my reading life lately to either the genre fantasy and sci-fi, or reading female authors (or oftentimes, both), I took a leap of fate in Mr. King. And let me tell you, neither the avid reader in me, nor the feminist in me were disappointed.
The story starts off with Danny and his mother Wendy dealing with the repercussions after they had escaped the Outlook hotel. As the ghosts from the Outlook hadn’t quite left Danny alone, they enlist the help of Halloran to teach him how to deal with them. Once clear of the ghosts, Danny (now Dan) then grows up to become a drunk, hopping from town to town and living day by day until he joins AA and cleans himself back up. He takes a job in a hospice and helps people die peacefully using his powers (or as he calls it, his shining). All is normal and peaceful, until he meets Abra Stone that is.
King introduces Abra as a character with powers that are out of this world. She’s more powerful than any one that Dan has ever met before, and he can sense when someone has a bit of the “shining”. We follow Abra’s growth as a person and as a powerful being, until she runs into a gang of vampiric-like creatures named the True-Knot. Lead by the malicious Rose the Hat, the gang become interested in sucking the essence of Abra’s powerful “shining” out of her dying body. Fearing for her life, Abra turns to Dan to help her fight off these creatures and the fight begins.
What’s interesting for me is King’s choice of characters. Abra Stone could have just as easily been a boy, or even an older girl. But instead we have the awkward, pre-pubescent come adolescent Abra Stone who is sweet and bad-tempered all at once. Who’s parents worry about things like bulimia. Who has pimples on her chin and an old bunny teddy in her lap. Likewise, the vampiric-like beings could have been headed by a man, but they’re not. Instead a sexually promiscuous, unapologetic, beautiful and powerful woman named Rose the Hat leads the group. Rose could even have been straight, but she’s not. Not that she’s a lesbian either. She just is a sexual being, with no labels given and no judgement placed on it either. And King always makes it very clear that what makes Rose evil is that she kills children in order to live longer. Nothing else.
With one foul swoop, King charged the Shining’s sequel with powerful and compelling female characters, one’s that you can’t ignore (Kubrick, we’re looking at you…) Sure, Rose is evil and Abra is good. But if you think for one moment that you won’t sympathise with Rose sometimes, or be afraid of Abra at others, then you’re wrong. Both characters are fueled with complexities, made all the more difficult by the fact that Abra is still so young.
But unlike other authors that would shy away from all the complexities of womanhood (and young womanhood at that) King faces them straight on. Periods are mentioned more than once, and that’s the reality. Abra Stone is a twelve-, going on thirteen, year-old girl and periods and bulimia are part of that characters humanity. Ignoring her period would be ignoring your characters basic bodily functions, like when certain authors leave gaping holes in their writing by never having their characters eating or shitting.
Abra is essentially the good guy in all of this, but King doesn’t fail to address her temper and that if sent down the wrong path, the person she could become. Neither does he suggest that a young girl who is capable of killing to survive will fall straight back into an easy and innocent life. Through her facial expressions, and in particular, a smile that frightens even Dan, King hints to the complexity of Abra. She is strong and weak, evil and good, smart and stupid.
She’s complicated in all the right ways. And by the end of the novel, you still don’t know who Abra will grow up to become. And that’s okay, because that’s all part of being human.