Stephen King, who needs no introduction, returns with a short novel in Joyland, published by Titan books as part of the Hard Case Crime series. But even though the book is under three hundred pages, King easily tells a full and fascinating story that fans and non-King readers will easily enjoy.
Devin Jones is spending the summer at Joyland, an amusement park on the sunny coast of South Carolina. Jones isn’t doing so well; not sure whether he wants to stay in college, plus it’s the early seventies and everything seems uncertain. And the other thing is the love of his live has just broken his heart and he kind of wants his world to end.
But then he starts working at Joyland, where they don’t just sell cotton candy and prizes and rides, but most importantly, they sell fun! He begins to learn the carny life, the carny talk, and the general running of the amusement park, doing a great job as well as being the best guy at “wearing the fur.” Joyland has its mighty Ferris wheel, reaching to the stars, the various carnies who have been working there for years and have their own interesting eccentricities, and the Horror House.
Every amusement park needs its one horror ride, and Horror House is it for Joyland, and this is the ride that has the dark story about it, because some years ago a girl was murdered on the ride, her throat slashed by her supposed boyfriend, her body dumped to the side of the track. She wasn’t found until the early hours of the morning by the cleanup crew; her murderer has never been found. It is said that Horror House is now haunted and sometimes when you’re on the ride, you might see the ghost of her body floating beside you in the car, that red slit throat looking like a wide smile.
Joyland shows how much of a better writer Stephen King has become over the last decade or so, as you have a thrilling horror tale at the heart of the story, but you also have a wonderful character in the teenager, Devin Jones, who has his whole life ahead of him, but feels it is over with his broken heart. Perhaps King was pulling on his own past experience to give this story life and reality that will move the reader, making Joyland stick with them long after they’ve finished the book.
Originally written on June 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.
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