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.