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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Shining — Book Review

I probably never would have read The Shining had it not been sold in a volume (seen here) that included Carrie. In fact, after reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, only my anal side got me to read the third and final piece of the volume. Having seen the film, I purposely saved it for the winter months, and had the mood set for me as I finished it up during the first real snow storm (in Philadelphia) of the winter. Whether it was the right mood or low expectations I’m not sure, but The Shining was the best of King’s work I’ve read.

Jack Torrence takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook hotel, a summer resort with a history of prestigious guests and, Torrence learns, more than one murder that has been swept under the rug. Jack doesn’t have a pristine past either, but Wendy, his wife, agrees to go to the Overlook in the hopes of a fresh start. Their young son, Danny, foresees disaster via his ability to “shine,” but tries to ignore his premonitions.

King offers more character development in The Shining than seems to be his norm with good results. He walks the line between realistic drama and science/horror fiction without simply abandoning the former, which is his usual pattern based on what I’ve read. He certainly pushes into the world of fantasy, but earns the trip by keeping the reader off-balance as to whether the other-worldly events were truly occurring or the result of the potentially unstable minds of the characters.

Early on Danny meets Mr. Hallorann, the Overlook’s in-season caretaker, who shares his ability to see events and the thoughts of others. A minor character in the film (as I recall), he is critical to the novel. The ability to “shine,” as he calls it, becomes a real thing for the reader through Hallorann, as opposed to some contrived element of the horror genre. Certainly suspending your belief in what reality can be is a prerequisite to reading King, but in The Shining he meets the reader half way.

This is also apparent in character and plot development. A lengthy novel, King justifies almost all of the space used. Jack’s history of alcoholism and abusive behavior makes it clear that being trapped in a mountainous region locked in a hotel that would be a perfect ski resort except for exceedingly brutal winters was a bad idea. The isolation alone offered a history of murderous outcomes. Wendy’s own past with a poor support system informs her desire to keep her family together despite plenty of warning to flee the Overlook. Danny’s youth more than explains his attempts to initially ignore what the shine was telling him about his father, a figure about which none of us ever want to believe the worst.

Of course, King is still King. I cut my reading short more than once as the hours reached later in the night and the usual noises of the house seemed a bit louder. The ending, which I still can’t remember from the film, was plenty brutal and not overly predictable. It may have run just a touch long, but it’s length is very forgivable.

Young fans of King will love The Shining, and those that liked the film will enjoy the depth of the characters. Overall, if you’re looking for something to pass a few long winter nights, it’s worth the read.

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