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Joyland by Stephen King

Source: Purchased at Public Library sale
Paperback, 283 pages
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Joyland by Stephen King showcases that same storytelling ability King has demonstrated his entire career, but rather than focus on the gruesome or horror, Joyland is about amusements, growing up, and tangentially crime.  Devin Jones is a 21-year-old college kid who goes down to North Carolina from New Hampshire on a whim to become a greenie at the local amusement park, Joyland.  The park, which houses a number of rides and is fading in popularity in 1973, has a haunted past.  Jones is just getting the hang of being on his own away from college, finding a room to rent and learning how to butter-up the powers that be to get the job.  While he’s great at making friends and impressing the supervisors, he’s also crap with women from the girlfriend who’s leading him on a string and bucking his attempts at romance to the sisterly love of Erin Cook.

“The truck’s headlights went out.  I heard the door open and shut.  And I heard the wind blowing through the Spin’s struts — tonight that sound was a harpy’s screech.  There was a steady, almost syncopated rattling sound, as well.  The wheel was shaking on its tree-thick axle.”  (page 258)

This summer, Jonesy learns a whole new language and way of life — carny from carny — and at the same time nurses a broken heart while having as much fun as he can with the kids who attend the park looking for Howie the Hound and his young friends, Erin and Tom Kennedy.  He’s constantly surrounded by a typical cast of carnies from Madame Fortuna to Lane Hardy and Eddie Fu****g Parks.  These subordinate characters are far from that, playing an integral part in Jonesy’s experiences during the summer and into the fall when the other college kids have gone back to school.  Unlike, King’s typical horror novels there is little gore and slashing here, but he makes up for it in setting, character, and story.  Readers will be immersed in the carny life and language, getting caught up in the lingo, the scams, the rides, and the sheer summer fun just like his main character, Dev.

King is adept at building stories from the ground up, weaving in details from several story lines through the nostalgic point of view of his main character (aged and wiser) in a way that never gets bogged down.  Readers will feel as though they are sitting by the campfire listening to a tall tale, much like the feeling Dev experiences when his landlady, Mrs. Shoplaw, tells him about the Linda Gray murder in Horror House.  Very much a period piece, this novel is the 1970s from the cultural references and the religious fervor that held women to a certain standard, but it also has a modern feel in how it is told through the eyes of an older Dev looking back on this summer of firsts and lasts for him.

Joyland by Stephen King in some ways is reminiscent of IT‘s story telling as characters look back on themselves and their actions from the present, extracting things and feelings they may not have expressed at the time, providing a new perspective on their experiences.  Dev does this, and while not as steeped in the supernatural as IT was, there is murder, psychics/seers, ghosts, and an early televangelist.  King has brought to life the childlike joy of carnivals and amusement parks and brought in a dose of reality as Dev is put to “wearing the fur” and scrubbing down the rides until the sweat pours off of him, while at the same time unraveling a murder mystery to its gyrating climax.

Like IT, this will be on the coveted Best of King shelf and likely will be re-read.

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

  • I have this one on audio and can’t wait to listen to it.

    • I can imagine this would be great on audio…eerie even!

  • Ti

    It was one of his sleepier stories if you know what I mean, but I enjoyed it for what it was and who could resist the carnival setting? Even my son is reading it!

    • I agree, it is a sleepier story, but perfect for the carnival, odd characters, and summer fun. I can’t wait to hear what your son thinks about it.

  • I need to buy this for my wife — if it’s on your coveted shelf, there’s not much more of an endorsement than that!

  • Fantastic review. I can’t wait to read this one.

    • Thanks. I hope you get to it soon; perfect way to close out the summer.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed his storytelling in 11/22/63 and love 1970s references so may have to look for this book.

    • I think you’d like this one, Kathy. It’s definitely strong in storytelling.

  • Glad you liked this one. I think I’d give it a try.

    • You know where to borrow it from! Such an excellent find at the library sale shelf!

  • Yeah, I really do need to get to this one. I am a King apostle. I grew up on his stuff, so I know exactly how this book is going to feel. Honestly, I believe that if someone handed me a King book but didn’t tell me who wrote it, I’d still know. He just has a way about him. I’m glad to know this one holds up to his best stuff.

    • I think you’re right about that, Sandy. I agree, he has a certain style that is unmistakeable.