Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Shining by Stephen King


He did see.  He has been too easy with them.  Husbands and fathers did have certain responsibilities.  Father Knows Best.  They did not understand.

I read The Shining years and years ago (I've always loved King's novels, but I probably read most during high school, this one included), and in preparation for Doctor Sleep, the newly released sequel, I figured I'd read it again.  It did not disappoint.  I can't say it's one of my favorite by King, but it's still great.  In his story about the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy and Danny, King creates the feeling of claustrophobia, desolation and depression while slowly ratcheting up the intensity.

I'm sure everyone knows the basic plot at this point: Jack gets the job as the caretaker of a resort outside of Boulder when it closes for the winter.  His son, Danny, has some kind of psychic powers (the eponymous "shining"), which allow him to see the future and communicate telepathically.  Unfortunately for the Torrances, this power attracts the attention of the hotel itself, which is basically haunted.  The hotel uses Jack to get to Danny by slowly driving him insane.  Lots of scary stuff goes down before the climactic end (which, by the way, is different and better than the end of the movie).

What I notice and found interesting this time around was why Jack was so vulnerable.  The Torrances ended up snowed in at a deserted hotel in the first place because Jack lost his teaching job after hitting a student.  Before that incident he had struggled with his raging alcoholism that at one point contributed to him losing his temper and breaking Danny's arm.  Still, Jack and Wendy's relationship had been improving since Jack quit drinking and it seemed like this job would be the beginning of the family's second act.  However, they live in a time when the man was very much expected to be the provider for his family.  Wendy defers to Jack not just because he's an abusive terror, but because he's the man and it's the late 70s.  When the hotel's shenanigans start to escalate, the clear right move is to get Danny the hell out of there, but Jack resists, even going so far as to sabotage the snowmobile, cutting them off from the outside world.  Sure, the nefarious influence of the hotel plays a big role in this decision, but he's vulnerable to its thrall because he is afraid that if he gives up the caretaker job he won't be able to provide for his family.  He doesn't even consider that Wendy could try to find a job to supplement his income, and she doesn't bring it up either.

His growing delusions and insanity are fed by his insecurity and inability to live up to the ideal of the patriarch.  The hotel turns him against his family, but this is how it manifests: "What it really came down to, he supposed, was their lack of trust in him.  Their failure to believe that he knew what was best for them and how to get it."  The ghosts of the hotel continue to stroke his ego, convincing him that he's "management material" and that it's him it wants, not Danny.  It's not until Danny makes him realize that Danny is the hotel's intended prize that he snaps out of it just long enough to avert disaster.

As the economy stalled and women entered the workforce during this era, this bitterness and frustration must have felt very familiar to many men.  A perceived inability to provide for one's family became more than a present, practical problem; it became a threat the men's entire identity and their conceptions of themselves as men.  Just another way the patriarchy negatively affects men as well as women.

Beyond that interesting aspect, it's still a great book, and I look forward to sinking my teeth into Doctor Sleep.

4 comments:

Christopher said...

Why is the cover from the Ayn Rand Collection?

billy said...

good question. the first time i read most of his books it was this signet series with silhouette like covers

R.M. Fiedler said...

Have you seen Rom 237 yet? I started it, but it was so good I decided I had to make Brittany watch it with me. I HIGHLY recommend it because the little bit that I saw was awesome.

Cleo Rogers said...

Just finished this, after having read Dr. Sleep. It'd been years, but each page of this book was masterful. As good as Kubrick' s movie version was, the book is so much better. Stephen King, I love you!
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