Book Review: ‘Joyland’
“Joyland” is everything you’d expect from Stephen King, and that’s awesome.
I’m gonna kick this review off with a story. It’s not as good a story as Stephen King would tell, but I think it helps get the point across.
“Joyland” showed up in the mail sometime last week. I had it sitting on top of my stack of books to review, since a new Stephen King book is always something to look forward to. Real life kept creeping in, though, and I kept not getting around to it.
On my way out the door for work yesterday, I remembered that the release date was coming up, and I’d probably want to get this book read, so I stuffed it into my Bag of Holding and set out for the job, intending to start reading on my lunch break.
Lunch rolls around. I eat and whip out the book with about twenty minutes left to read.
Suddenly, I’ve read sixty pages and I’m ten minutes late getting back. I was pretty hooked. Once again, Stephen King had gotten me caught up in his storytelling claws.
“Joyland” tells the story of Devin Jones, a college student who has scored a pretty sweet summer job at the titular amusement park. He finds himself well-suited to the job, but as time goes on, he begins to learn about the unsolved murder that happened there four years ago. As he begins to learn the truth, it becomes readily apparent that there is someone nearby who would rather he didn’t, and is willing to do terrible things to keep the secret hidden.
With a description like that, you might start to think this book is somewhat new territory for Stephen King, if you can imagine such a thing happening after his nearly forty-year career. And it is, in some ways, but really it’s a lot of what I’ve come to expect from the Master of Horror, even if that’s not the genre he’s working in.
You see, Stephen King is nothing if not an evoker of emotion. We all know him best for his ability to spark that finest of emotions, pants-crapping terror, but he’s got a wider range than that. King’s not a one-trick pony when it comes to making you feel things, and “Joyland” is a pretty good example of that.
With this flair for description, King is able to evoke nostalgia and loss and love in ways that few writers can. Some of his best books are about growing up, stories like “The Body” (which of course became the movie “Stand By Me” starring geek hero Wil Wheaton) and “Christine” and one of my favorites, “Hearts in Atlantis.” King’s coming-of-age stories are often the ones I adore most, since one of his many talents is bringing the past alive as a real thing, a setting you can sink into and either reflect fondly upon or discover more about, depending on your own date of birth. King’s looks at the past often follow a familiar pattern: first we see them with rosy-colored glasses: times where the music was better, people were friendlier, and root beer tasted amazing; but as the books progress we start to see the seedy underbelly of it all. Nostalgia gives way to reality, and things were as terrifying then as now.
“Joyland” accomplishes this transition pretty well. It’s set in the late seventies and looked back upon by an aging narrator as one of the best times of his life. The narrative might lose a bit on a younger reader, but I was able to see a lot of my own past in King’s narrator looking back on his often-silly past self. I imagine a lot of people can do the same. In addition to that, King brings working at a carnival to life and actually makes it look like a lot of fun. His research allows us to see a life that, odds are, we’re not going to see in reality, and his dialog-writing skills shine with lots of carny talk, both real and imagined.
And lest you give up all hope of any “classic” Stephen King being present, let me tell you that this book is not totally bereft of the supernatural weirdness you’ve come to know and love. It’s not just a coming-of-age murder mystery, no sir-ee. There’s a ghost story in this book, and a lot of other little oddities that keep the mind racing. Something about Stephen King always manages to help reveal the weird world lurking just beyond sight, the unexplainable and the macabre.
King has elected to not release this novel in e-book form, which has annoyed a few people, but I’m okay with it. Something about the book just works better as a paperback. Part of that is the cover art from Glen Orbik, who does some great book covers. You can pick up your copy from an online retailer, or better yet, your local brick-and-mortar, as of June 4, 2013.
“Joyland” is published by Hard Case Crime, a division of Titan Books. Check out their other stuff, too. They’ve got some great reprints, for one, but they’re also putting out a lot of Donald Westlake, which puts them high in my estimation.