Joyland by Stephen King

JoylandTitle: Joyland
Author: Stephen King
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Titan Books [Hard Case Crime]
Source: Titan Books ARC
Genre(s): Adult Fiction, Crime Fiction, Supernatural

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers: Low
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All-time Best-selling Author STEPHEN KING Returns with a Novel of Carny Life – and Death…

Yeah, that’s actually the tagline on the back cover of the book. I love it. The Hard Case Crime imprint over at Titan is the best. I love all the noir, dime-novel covers they make for all the books. I’m not usually into mysteries and what not but there’s no way you can deny just how cool it is to have a publisher throwing back to the old style and supporting the old-school printed word format. (Joyland will not be available as ebook.)

Joyland is not like much of Stephen King’s other works. It is a lot more like some of his more well-known ‘off-genre’ novels and stories such as the Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption, and The Body (the short story that provided the inspiration for Stand By Me). Now, obviously there is something a little bit supernatural going on because even Stephen King’s non-horror, non-fantasy stories always have a little edge to them. SyFy extrapolated enough from his other Hard Case Crime novel – The Colorado Kid – to make an entire series out of it. One that’s going into it’s fourth season, I might add. And the fact that Joyland is not like his usual work is part of what makes it special.

Even though there is a ghost story woven into the tale, it’s much less about that and much more about life in general. Joyland is a coming-of-age story for the wayward 20-something year olds of America. Though it’s set in 1973, narrator Devin Jones – Jonesy to the carny crowd – speaks with a voice that’s absolutely genuine and he talks about the sort of things that twenty-one year olds deal with no matter what the year. He speaks as an adult but not in a condescending way like he’s trying to make some point. It’s more like he’s just got some great story to tell and as he’s nearing retirement this is the time to tell it.

And he does have one heck of a story.

During one wayward summer with little else to do and looking for some easy cash (and away to forget a certain girl) Devin finds himself working at a small-scale amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland. There he meets two of his closest friends – friends that he would have for the rest of his life – Tom Kennedy who is also working as a seasonal jack of all trades and Erin Cook who is working as a green dress-clad, photo snapping ‘Hollywood Girl’. That summer Devin would discover a lot about the person he was and about the secrets the park holds. Namely one secret – the mysterious and brutal murder of a young woman in the haunted house some eight years prior. Most of the book is not about that murder, though. That all seems to play out in the background. Joyland is much more about the job and the people Devin works with and the way Devin himself grew in that summer – and subsequent fall – working at Joyland. Among the characters that filled his world were Joyland’s resident full-time carnies Pops Allen, Fred Dean, Lane Hardy, among others; the carny-from-carny owner – Mr. Eastbrooke; the mysterious (in her own mind mostly) Madame Fortuna; and the rest of the Joyland seasonal staff. It also included Annie and Mike Ross – an older woman and her son who suffered from a fatal brand of muscular dystrophy.

Devin tells his story disjointedly and he jumps around a bit in time. He’ll reveal the ultimate fate of a number of characters early on in the book and then continue on telling the story as anyone who was telling a story would. I mean, think of how often you’re telling a story and someone interjects with “What happened to him anyway?” half way through. You’ll usually just tell them and then keep on going. The book is very conversational.

True to it’s Hard Case Crime imprint, the secrets and mystery and unsolved murder pop up form time to time and which I think in a round about way in Devin’s mind that’s the story he’s been telling all along. And unlike in the Colorado Kid readers will be happy to know that they do get closure at the end of this book. They might shed some tears, though. Just don’t expect all your answers at once and don’t begrudge Devin the fact that he jumps around from time to time in his own story.  He’s only human and its worth it to stick it out.

Stephen King fans should definitely pick this one up – especially if you like his less horror-centric work. And for any reader whose got a thing for mysteries and coming-of-age stories it’s well worth checking out. Plus, you get the added benefit of supporting your local bookstore of choice because the book really is only available in print. May I recommend you bypass Amazon and Barnes and Noble and head straight for a local place? If you’re here in the Phoenix area – why not try out Bookmans?

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