Review: Joyland; Stephen King

“When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction…” (4 stars) 

Source- borrowed from a friend

Published by Hard Case Crime- June 4th, 2013

Paperback edition- 283 pages 

I still have a back-list of Stephen King books that I’m slowly ploughing my way through. I experienced what seems to be that obligatory teenage Stephen King phase when I was about fifteen, but I find myself appreciating his brilliance all the more now that I’m older. When I re-read his novels I pick up on aspects I’ve missed and I’m a total scaredy cat now too, so I find myself getting completely creeped out by certain storylines. Put it this way: after I read Pet Semetary I had to sleep with my bedside light on. 

I know, I know. Pathetic. 

Ahem. 

So, Joyland is King’s newest novel and first off, I have to say that I am positively head over heels in love with that retro pulp-noir cover, which ties in brilliantly with the rest of the story. This is quite a different Stephen King than what I had been expecting from the indications of that cover. First off, Joyland doesn’t offer out and out gory horror or spine-tingling chills. What readers are presented with here is a coming of age story, combined with a mystery novel which has some pretty thought-provoking ghostly elements tied in there.  King excels in writing about ‘real’ people, people who aren’t always serial killers or sinister bad guys, and in Joyland he has a real winner with his protagonist Devin Jones. 

It’s 1973 and hurting from his first heartbreak, college student Devin takes a summer job in North Carolina at the Joyland amusement park. In what proves to be an unforgettable summer of mystery and adventure, Dev uncovers the story of a grisly murder at the park decades earlier, and loses his heart to an older woman and her terminally ill young son. 

This is a novel positively steeped in nostalgia, a completely evocative read that draws you in to the events experienced by Devin and his friends that memorable summer. I was sucked in by the nods to the 70’s music, the sights, smells and sounds depicted and the vibrant carnival atmosphere of Joyland itself. The themes of the story are inherently appealing- not only do we have supernatural elements, but we have friendships, first loves and a boy on the cusp of becoming a man. There’s love and loss and something wonderfully bittersweet about the situations Devin experiences during the course of the plot. I also really came to care about the colourful characters, especially the motley cast of Carney workers who came to life during the story. 

That’s not to say the book is without its flaws. For me, the ending wrapped up just a bit too quickly and the ‘ghost’ aspect felt like something of a missed opportunity (though the endings poignancy did tug on my heartstrings); sometimes the pace of the story was pretty languid in general, too. That aside, the overall story was deeper than I had anticipated, so the rest of these faults were pretty easy to overlook.

Joyland admittedly doesn’t quite top my list of favourite Stephen King books, but needless to say was absorbingly simplistic and a quick reading experience that I really enjoyed- the perfect summertime read. If you are looking for scary horror tale then you may find yourself somewhat disappointed here, but if you are looking for a terrific, character-driven coming of age story, then expect to fully embrace this atmospheric novel.

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