Thursday, October 22, 2015

JOYLAND by Stephen King

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, HCCs 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.


Anonymous said...

I am reading this novel at the moment actually. I'm just over half-way through and am thoroughly enjoying the story. This novel tells the sort of tale that melds itself with your brain while you are reading it and becomes a constant companion. Whatever I find myself doing these days, I am doing it with one foot in a wonderfully melancholy place called Joyland. I love it.

Ben Boulden said...

It certainly stayed with me long after I read it, and I've been thinking about reading it again.

Mathew Paust said...

You've sold me, Ben. I haven't read anything by King in ages. Your review has reminded me how engaging he can be. Time to get back the master.

Ben Boulden said...

Matt. I hope you like it. This is probably one of the top four or five novels I've read over the last few years. It really spoke to me.

Stephen Mertz said...

A superb novel. One of the best I read this year.