25 mph winds made yesterday’s run feel like someone punched me in the face, sucked out my air and then handed me an throat burn flavored ice cream cone. Yum, and a fine way to prepare for a dive into The Shining, a book that leaves you feeling fairly roughed up.
Published in 1977 following Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining has sat on my should-read pile for a long time. Not sure why I’ve resisted reading it. Maybe it’s Stanley Kubrick’s fault for adapting it into a movie so thoroughly frightening it leaves you too full for another bite. Besides, seeing the movie before reading the book spoils much of the suspense. It’s been ages since I saw it, but I still came to the novel with Jack Nicholson’s crazed look in my mind.
Too easily influenced, I usually wait for the hype to die down before partaking in the wildly popular. It’s been 36 years since the release and the sequel, Doctor Sleep, is due out this September. It’s time.
After a friend in high places pulls some strings, Jack Torrance receives the job as caretaker for Colorado’s Overlook Hotel. He’s to live there with his wife Wendy and 5-year old son Danny during the eight long months the place is shuddered between summers. His family’s running on fumes financially, and the situation will leave him time to work on his play while Danny and Wendy can enjoy having the place all to themselves.
The Overlook has a storied, scandalous past. Jack is warned that former caretakers have fallen to extreme cases of cabin fever, including Grady, who chopped up his wife and twin daughters with a hatchet. It’s estimated that forty-five people have died there since its opening in 1910. Jack is undeterred. He’s drawn to the place even as he senses its darkness.
The family arrives as the last of the staff are packing up. Mr. Halloran, the summer cook, sees something familiar in Danny. He calls it The Shine, meaning he understands things, knows things he shouldn’t be able to know. Danny shines so bright that sometimes he can see fragments of the future. Other times he sees ghosts. Halloran warns Danny to steer clear of certain areas in the hotel, but if he does see things he’s to think of them as pictures in a movie. Pictures can’t hurt him, he doesn’t think.
Through Danny we understand that once Jack takes the job bad things will begin to fall into place. The scene is set for him to explode. With every chapter you can almost see his temper cracking. Once the snow starts sticking they’ll be completely isolated, unable to access the road to town. Wendy is determined to make her broken marriage work, but the more time she spends at the hotel, the more she wants to leave. At the same time, all three are reluctant to acknowledge signs that they’re not alone.
Because it was frightening, they swept it quickly from their minds.
As Jack’s curiosity grows, his will to leave wanes. It seems the things that stir in the night have a place for him. Snow piles up until they have no more chance of leaving. This is when The Overlook stops playing games, giving them one reason after another to regret staying. No longer can they comfort themselves that the place is empty.
But it wasn’t really empty. Because here in the Overlook things just went on and on. Here in the Overlook all times were one.
That Danny knows what’s coming and still doesn’t leave is believable considering how much he adores Jack. His love for his father is so unconditional that he can’t leave no matter how hard his intuition tries to make him. Not sure what’s more frightening – Jack or the evil hotel.
Stephen King doesn’t give you many breathers. It starts scary and gets only scarier. Whereas ‘Salem’s Lot had a heavy foot on the momentum, The Shining takes its time in drawing out the full force, but you always know it’s there. The scenes with the elevator and room 217 are superb, bravo, if I could throw roses at King I would. Throughout it all there’s a strong physicality, a sense of place that makes you feel as trapped as Danny and Wendy are.
It’s quite clear why King and this book are held in such high regard. A scene will go from big intense action to the smallest details that make the characters and snow and whiskey all so real. Lose yourself in this book on a icy day and you won’t regret it.
I wonder why King decided to write a sequel now. Doctor Sleep, sounds like a big busy story, but most novels do when they’re whittled down from a world to a paragraph. We’ll just have to wait until September and see. At my rate, I should be reading it around September 2049.