Gravetappin' Ben Boulden reviews Stephen King's Joyland
This review originally went live July 3, 2013. There is a new illustrated edition out from Hard Case Crime in hardcover. Come back soon for an original post. Purchase a copy of Joyland at Amazon.
Posted: 22 Oct 2015 06:00 AM PDT
Hard Case Crime recently released a new Stephen King novel—straight to trade paperback—titled Joyland. It is a short novel, probably not much more than 50,000 words, but it is Mr King’s best work in several years. Joyland is a difficult novel to categorize. It is part supernatural ghost story and mystery, but it doesn’t easily fit into either, or even both categories. It is something approaching a working class soliloquy. It is narrated as though the protagonist is speaking to himself attempting to find the truth hidden in the story’s events.
Devin Jones is an early-twenties college student with an unfaithful girlfriend, a mourning father, and a dead mother. In the summer of 1973 Devin takes a job at an amusement park in the small resort town of Heaven’s Bay, North Carolina, called Joyland. The summer changes Devin; he meets two life-long friends, a murderer, a dying boy, and in the process discovers adulthood.
The story is centered on two primary events. The first is a murder in the funhouse of Joyland, which occurred a few years before the story begins, and the second is Devin’s introduction to a dying boy named Mike. The two story lines run parallel, but neatly and satisfactorily collide in the final climax.
Joyland is a carnival novel—every horror writer should have one—but it is much more. It is a coming of age story where the protagonist is dragged into adulthood by circumstance; a truer understanding is achieved, and the naiveté and brilliance of youth is forever lost. It is a sad and wistful tale, but it doesn’t dwell on sorrow; rather it is more about hope than anything. The opening lines frame the mood and pacing of the novel perfectly:
“I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay. It seemed the right thing to do. The only thing, actually.”
Joyland is a small masterpiece. It is smoothly readable, and while it tells a story of meaning it does so with a strong and interesting story. It is anything but HCC’s usual fare, but it is an appealing novel, which should be well liked by Mr King’s usual suspects, HCC’s readers, and a bunch more. You should try this one. This review originally went live July 3, 2013. There is a new illustrated edition out from Hard Case Crime in hardcover. Come back soon for an original post. Purchase a copy of Joyland at Amazon.