It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book review so I wanted to take some time to write one now. I just finished The Shining, a book that I’m sure you’ve at least heard of from Stephen King. The book was 659 pages, and I was able to finish it in four days with my newfound, unemployeed time. To start, I want to say that I liked the book and it will stick with me for awhile, but I’m sure he has better work out there. I hadn’t seen the movie because honestly, I’m a big baby when it comes to thrillers and horror books/movies, but I felt drawn to read this and by the end, I basically couldn’t put it down.
The only things that I knew going in (which I gathered from clips I’ve seen of the movie) were that Jack attacked Wendy with an ax and that there were some ghost twins. (Dating a twin throughout the reading of this novel has not effected my view of her.) To my disbelief, the twins were mentioned in the book, but were never much used other than in stories, and Jack didn’t even use an ax, but instead a roque mallet to break down doors and bones. With that said, I’ll take you through my journey.
The only thing that I had read from King in the past were some short stories in the Skeleton Key collection (my favorite being “Cain Rose Up” and my least “Here There Be Tigers”) and The Gunslinger. I didn’t like The Gunslinger and put it down after about 100 pages. I wasn’t thrilled with the writing and the slow, nondescript pacing that it started with and it lost my interest. The Shining was a chance that I kind of took randomly and not expecting much.
I loved the opening of the book. It gave me my new favorite insult, officious little prick, and gave over 100 pages of story that was completely needed for character development and setting building. You learn about Danny, the kid with the gift, and his parents Jack and Wendy. Jack struggles with alcoholism and a history of abuse, while Wendy tries constantly to mother Danny to the best of her ability, sometimes letting her maternal instinct betray her trust in Jack. There is strain in their relationship from page one, and it leads to an interesting dynamic that never feels more comfortable throughout the entire book. You learn about the Overlook hotel and some of its mysterious past and why Jack is going to be taking his family to spend the entire winter season there, from the beginning of fall to the end of Winter. I won’t bore you with details, but everything was developed in a way that seemed totally reasonable. It gave the book this feeling of normalcy, like everything that would happen could happen in real life.
Eventually, they are snowed into this hotel and that’s when King’s writing really starts to flourish. He builds up these mysterious backstories about gang members, psychotic fathers (foreshadowing) and other peculiar deaths. You start to feel the ghosts roaming the halls, before King even mentions them. I want you to honestly think for a second; how would you feel if you were locked in a hotel for months on end, even if there were no scary backstories? Well I’d be terrified because I’m a wimp, but it’s a weird, eerie feeling. Add countless deaths to that and boom, I’d poop myself. As the book progresses, Danny, a uniquely gifted boy, starts to see these ghosts and weird occurances, like blood on walls, a naked and rotted woman crawling out of a bathtub to strangle him, and topiaries out front moving from harmless positions to positions of power and danger. He is the first to see them, but eventually Jack is shown these images too, but he fears he is only hallucinating and is more afraid of going crazy than being worried for his families safety. As the book progresses, it goes down the path that many are already familiar with. Jack goes nuts and tries to kill everyone, and then the hotel blows up.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t too scared by the end of the book because, and that is my one true complaint for the book; I don’t think it stayed scary. By the end, the mystery of the hotel is gone and Danny isn’t seeing anything else that isn’t too horrifying. More than that, Danny isn’t scared by it anymore either, so his herosim affected me, the reader. The whole time I read, I was worried that creepy twins would appear and I’d lose it, but they didn’t. They were mentioned, but they never actually showed up like they do in the movie. Jack went crazy and tried to kill everyone, but it wasn’t him going insane, it was the hotel basically taking over his mind, and the idea that a hotel is tormenting a family as opposed to a mentally fragile father snapping and attacking them is less exciting and if you look at it with an unbiased mind, kind of laughable. This book had the same kind of payoff that I feel some of his short stories had; they were exciting and scary all the way through until the end, but then the actual payoff was less exciting than the ride, so my interest disappeared. The version that I had had an excerpt for the sequel, Doctor Sleep, and I couldn’t be less interested in reading it. As far as I am interested, Danny did some crazy shit, same with Jack, Wendy and another character name Dick Hallorann, and then that was it. The hotel blew up and then whatever ghostly force lived inside of it was gone forever.
Kings writing is amazing. There is no questioning it. The descriptions are good, the worlds that he paints are so unbelievably well done that I can picture the Overlook when I close my eyes. I was scared up until the last 100 pages, which online reviews stated were the most exciting part, and then left kind of bored and disappointed, waiting for more that never came. The twins never showed up, Jack was possessed by a building and Danny caught a fish in the epilogue.
I’d be more than happy to give Kings work another go in the future but I hope that the conclusion is resolved in a way that doesn’t leave me wanting more. I wanted that one, big, definitive moment where my brain would be like “put this down, this is too scary” and it never came. That would be like watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and instead of The Empire setting up this huge trap for The Rebellion, they just kinda let them swoop in and blow up the deathstar again. Yeah, that’d be triumphant and a huge win the The Rebels, but as a viewer, would you really care?