Book Review: Joyland by Stephen King
Genere(s): Mystery, Pulp, Ghost Story, Romance, Coming of Age, Crime
Format: Paperback (only)
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
Description: Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.
Review: I knew when Stephen King decided to go with Hard Case Crime to publish his latest novel that it would be something special, but I had no idea that by the end of Joyland I would be fighting back tears in the break area where I work as I read the last page. I am very picky when it comes to the writings of Mr. King. I have always known that he is a great author but extensive descriptions of dead bodies (like 9 or 10 pages worth) are not my thing. I have always admired Mr. King’s ability to take the simple things from everyone’s childhood, like that huge neighborhood dog that always scared you when you walked home from school, and turn them up to 11, a la Cujo. As an author, King really knows how to reach into a reader and pull emotions out of them that they are too scared to even admit exists.
With this in mind, I have always been drawn to King’s other works like The Dark Tower, The Green Mile, and The Body, which was later made into the film Stand by Me. For me, these are the stories where Stephen King really shines. These are the stories that show that his writing is so much more than a series of twisted amped up childhood fears expressed in words. Enter Joyland.
The cover of this novel is a bit disconnected from the actual time period in which the story takes place. These pulp dime novel covers are a hallmark of Hard Case Crime publishing, so I understand why they went that route. I do worry that this cover style might turn off people who might assume that this is a 40s or 50s style mystery and pass it over if that is not their cup of tea, thus missing the amazing gift that Mr. King has presented readers with.
For all of its simplicity, this a very complex, multifaceted story. Trying to describe this story to my wife was like trying to describe the movie Forrest Gump to someone. Sure, you can give them a general idea of what’s going on, but you can’t cover all of the themes in this story without confusing the person you are proselytizing to. Here is what I mean: Is this a love story? Yes… well, sort of. Is this a coming of age story? Sure, but wait, isn’t it a love story? Okay, fine. It is a murder mystery… wait, it is a ghost story.
Actually, it is all of those and a few more I might have missed. With all of these seemingly disparate themes, you would think the novel would be a hot mess, and in the hands of a lesser author, it might be. King’s ability to knit all of these themes into a coherent story that covers the reader like a warm blanket is nothing short of genius. This book jumps through different time periods in the narrator’s life and I always knew where in his life we were and how his summer working at Joyland influenced his life.
At 280 pages, this book is almost a short story by King standards; yet it feels bigger. Not longer, just bigger in the best possible way. Even with this big feeling, this story is still quaint and retains that small town charm that made so many of Mr. King’s other stories so popular. I can easily see this book being made into a very successful movie.
This book made me stay up way too late. This book kept me guessing, but gave me a chance to figure out who done it. This book made me think about not just my first love, (my amazing wife and the feelings she elicits in and from me) but something that had me hold back tears in a workplace break room, and it did all of that in 280 pages. I am not a cold person, but to be on the brink of tears in a workplace full of type-A people is never a good thing. Depsite that, Stephen King not only took me there, he made me relish those feelings of “weakness”; some much so that as soon as I finished the book I had to call my wife, tell her how amazing the book was, and tell her how much I love her and how much she means to me. Yes, a ghost story/ murder mystery made me feel all of those things and more. This book might not appeal to every Stephen King fan, but there is no way to deny the skill and love that is reflected in this novel.