Saturday, July 25, 2020

REVIEW: The Shining (audiobook) by Stephen King, read by Campbell Scott

The Shining
is horror, originally published in 1977. I checked this out via one of the library Overdrive collections I have access to.


Jack Torrance takes a position as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel mostly because he doesn't have any other choice. He's a recovering alcoholic with anger issues who was fired from his previous position as a teacher for beating a student. The caretaker position will give him and his wife (Wendy) and 5-year-old son (Danny) a place to stay while he finishes writing his play and figures out what his next step is going to be.

Although Wendy is no longer considering a divorce, she still has trust issues where Jack is concerned. When he was drunk, Jack once broke Danny's arm, and a part of Wendy has never forgiven him for it and worries that he'll do something like it again. For his part, Danny loves both of his parents and wants them to stay together and love each other. Danny happens to be psychic, so he's more aware of his parents' thoughts and feelings than the average 5-year-old. He's also the first member of the family to notice that the Overlook Hotel is very, very haunted. But ghosts are just scary pictures. They can't actually hurt the living...right?

I've never previously read this or seen the movie, although it's been on my TBR at least since the last time I got on a "horror set in haunted buildings" kick. Other than a few iconic images from the movie, I didn't really know much about The Shining or what to expect. For example, Danny's psychic abilities took me by surprise.

I had thought that the Overlook Hotel's various ghosts would take center stage more, but the book was actually more focused on Jack's alcoholism and anger issues. Prior to arriving at the Overlook, he seemed mostly in control. He was sober and seemed fine with the idea of being snowed in at the hotel with his wife, child, and no alcohol. Unfortunately, the Overlook's ghosts gnawed away at his control and added fuel to his temper. All of the bitterness, misogyny, and racism in him rose to the surface. It was hard to listen to sometimes.

This was more Jack's story than Wendy's - her backstory was mostly designed to explain why she didn't immediately take Danny and run when things at the Overlook started to look a bit off, before the snow trapped them all at the hotel. Her mother, the only person she could have turned to for help, was overbearing, unpleasant, and had a habit of undermining everyone around her. When she rightfully began to worry about and be suspicious of Jack's behavior, her fear that she was starting to become like her mother caused her to doubt herself and give Jack more chances.

Danny didn't always read like a 5-year-old, but he also wasn't supposed to. His abilities gave him a glimpse into adult minds that a child his age normally wouldn't have, even if he didn't always understand what he saw.

This book dragged for me at times. I got tired of Jack repeatedly falling back on blaming everyone but himself for his problems, and I just wanted more ghost moments - the hotel room, hedge animals, etc. were great. But the focus was Jack, his deteriorating condition, and the strain it was putting his family under, so I had to put up with Jack more than I preferred. And yeah, I know that Jack's alcoholism was the point. Still.

Campbell Scott's narration was pretty good, although reading this in paper form would have allowed me to skim the parts that tried my patience, so I'm still not sure if audio was the best option for this.

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