Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Joyland by Stephen King

Stephen King is something of a polarizing figure in literary circles. He's viewed as either a hack or a genius, depending on your degree of literary snobbery. But what no one can dispute is that King sells books, having become such a mainstay of the market that he might as well be his own genre. In his latest outing, King proves once again why throngs of people continue reading his books year after year, volume after volume. Joyland is King doing what he does best, telling a tale full of human experience, a dash of the otherworldly, and a heaping helping of nostalgia all told through the eyes of an everyman that has something in common with us all.

It's 1973, Devin Jones is a twenty one year old virgin with literary aspirations who decides to take a summer job at Joyland, a fading amusement park that is more carnival than theme park. During this summer adventure, Devin experiences his first true taste of heart break, makes friends that will last him for the rest of their lives, and finds himself compelled to solve the mystery of the ghost of a young woman murdered inside the House of Horror, years ago. Of course, even with the most straight forward of King stories there is far more to it than that. King skillfully mines his own tropes with a mastery gained from a long career to deliver this achingly familiar tale of first loves, friendship, loss, healing and the slow creep of time that none of us can escape.

Joyland is told entirely from Devin's point of view, but only after many years have gone by. This is a common enough trick for King, one that he combines with another familiar element; using a writer as his narrator. There are other tropes in play here, a fortune teller that actually has a touch of  "the sight", a dying child with similar abilities, even the seaside small town and amusement park has shown up in King's novels. But none of that matters. King isn't trying to sell you something new, he knows that's a 'butcher's game'. He's shilling what his fans know and love. Joyland is a coming of age story in the same vein as some his most enduring of tales. Fans of The Body, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile will find much to love in Devin Jones journey from boy to almost man, and his reflections on the summer where everything changed.

Despite the throwback pulp cover and the promise of a noir crime tale, Joyland is much more than what it appears. While the murder mystery element is well handled, with a few red herrings and a satisfying final confrontation between Devin and the killer, the real draw of the novel is Devin's journey to manhood and his ruminations on the lessons he learns along the way. The ghost story and other otherworldly elements are really only present to flavor and compliment Devin's tale.

And what a tale it is. I was left wanting more time with Devin and the friends he made while working at Joyland. In under three hundred pages, King once again crafted a cast of characters that I have every intention to returning to again and again and a novel that deserves a spot besides the most popular and well received of his staggering contribution to popular and meaningful fiction.


  1. Really that good huh? I've only ever read his Dark Tower Series - I love the idea that it takes place in a amusement park. I don't know about the way its told by the character when he's older. But if you say it was done well I believe you. Just how much "otherworldly" would you say it is - give me a percent! @pabkins

  2. I'd say it's maybe 15% ghost story. The elements are there, and they serve the story well, but the real meat of the novel if the journey to manhood that the protagonist takes. If you've only read the Dark Tower, then I would strongly reccomend Joyland. It's excellent, a quick read, and show cases all the skills that make King a master of the craft.

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