Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Joyland by Stephen King


Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Titan
Publication Date: June 4. 2013
Pages: 288 (Trade Paperback Edition)

     I’m not a huge fan of this author, but every five years or so I pick up and read a Stephen King novel.  Sometimes I am intrigued by the premise (Needful Things) and am disappointed by the resolution of the plot and other times I am interested in the topic (capital punishment in The Green Mile) and am pleased with King’s take on that topic.  I picked up Joyland for several reasons.  First, I admired the author’s refusal to release the book in electronic format, instead promoting the perpetuation of the physical book.  Secondly, this novel was released as part of the “Hard Case Crime” series, a celebration of the crime noir genre which I have enjoyed for years.  The books in this series are inexpensive paperbacks with classic “pulp fiction” covers released by The Dorchester Publishing Company.  The series includes the re-release of classics by James M. Cain, Donald Westlake and Ed McBain as well as new efforts by contemporary writers such as Stephen King.
      The major rediscovery for me while reading Joyland was that Stephen King can really write.  He is noted for his horror fiction (Carrie, Pet Semetary, The Shining, etc.) but his writing transcends that genre and his prose ranks right up there with the best contemporary authors.  In Joyland he evokes the sights, sounds and feel of the early to mid-1970s.  He uses the music of the time (most notably The Doors and Pink Floyd) so set the tone of the story and the sometimes dour mood of Devin Jones, the main character.  He describes North Carolina beaches so perfectly that the reader can feel the breeze off of the ocean.  King also includes a lot of carnival lore including the peculiar idioms used by veteran “Carny” workers which lends an authenticity to the story.  

     The plot revolves around Devin, a college student from New England who spends a summer working at an old fashioned amusement park on the coast of North Carolina.  He is suffering from the recent breakup with his college sweetheart while he adapts to the culture of the South.  There is a decades old murder mystery entwined as well as some supernatural goings-on (this is a Stephen King novel, after all) including a haunted funhouse ride.  There is also the underlying mystery of how some people are always in the right place at the right time (a familiar King theme).  Is it chance or is there a mystical rhyme and reason for coincidence?  There are numerous secondary characters including a precocious child with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who contribute greatly to this moving story.  Joyland is not a breathlessly paced mystery, nor is it a shocking horror thriller.  It is a totally enjoyable, entertaining novel with a satisfyng ending.  It is a very well thought out and exquisitely written novel which I enjoyed reading very much.

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