JOYLAND by Stephen King
Joyland consumed me, took me down into a world I can still remember outside of the novel because I lived through those times as well, and left me nostalgic and emotionally exhausted. This book is one of Stephen King’s best, a steady, haunting melody of memory and youth and innocence that was euphoric.
Readers looking for one of King’s bloodthirsty romps aren’t going to get that here. They’re going to get the Stephen King that wrote Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and “The Body,” all tales that I enjoy and recommend to any reader, especially those who think that all the author produces are horror stories.
Devin Jones, the main character, is me at 21, and I think he’s a lot of the guys who grew up in the 1970s when the Vietnam War was going on, the battle of the sexes was being waged, and the world was in turmoil. King doesn’t really talk about the big issues in this novel, but you can see them in Dev ifyou know where to look.
Dev is a guy who’s just trying to live a quiet life, a “right” life, and find a small amount of happiness chasing his dreams. Of course, he’s chasing after the wrong girl, and yeah, a lot of us have been there too.
The book wanders around a lot and introduces a lot of characters, but I was glad to check out the scenery and I enjoyed getting to meet all the people. There are several familiar characters in these pages, all of them the kind of folks King generally tucks into his stories – real people with real histories that we only get glimpses of, which is like real life too. You get the feeling that King knows a lot more about these characters than he shows here, and with his habit of bringing characters back to sprinkle into other novels, I get the feeling that we’ll see some of them again.
Of course, we won’t see some of them again. That’s one of the things that King does too: introduces us to people then tells us how they were lost along the way. He uses a lot of introspective storytelling in this novel, but it really works, although there are some times big changes in the timeline jar.
The crux of the book is the murder that took place in Joyland’s Horror House, but that’s just the linchpin that frames Dev’s story. After a bitter breakup with his college sweetheart, he’s looking for something to focus his attentions on and the mysterious murdered girl whose ghost sometimes appears to Joyland patrons provides enough of a mystery to entice him – and the readers.
It’s really hard to qualify this book. It’s kind of a ghost story. It’s kind of a mystery. It’s kind of a coming of age novel.
But it’s the best kind of Stephen King novel. I read it during a drizzly night that unraveled into the small hours of morning, the perfect time to remember those vulnerable years and to believe in things that bump ever so gently in the dark corners of the world.