Stephen King has had his detractors over the years. People accuse his writing of being low brow and written for the lowest common denominator.
They are all fools, because King’s books to me have always been magic. Whether it’s his regular horror such as The Stand, Salem’s Lot, and IT, or the fantasy world of The Eyes of the Dragon or the Gunslinger series, or his touching books such as Talisman, Black House, and Hearts of Atlantis, I’ve loved them all. I’ve read them all. Sometimes, it takes me a little longer to get to them, and sometimes it takes me a little longer to get through them, but I always do.
Joyland is the second book that King has written for Hard Case Crime, the first was The Colorado Kid, published in 2005. I actually came late to reading The Colorado Kid. I picked it up when it came out, and it sat on my shelf for seven years. It was only after becoming a devoted fan of Haven, that I decided I better go back and read the inspiration. The Colorado Kid actually has very little to do with Haven, other than the title character, but it’s a lovely little tale, that too, has magic.
Joyland is another magical little tale. The story focuses on Devin Jones as he works at Joyland, a mostly summer run amusement park outside of Wilmington, N.C. In classic King style, the story is told from the perspective of Jones the elder as he looks back on the summer he spent at Joyland. Devin is a twenty one year old college student who takes the job at the amusement park because it intrigues him, and he begins the summer with a head start on a broken heart from a college girlfriend who is distancing herself. While the mystery that earns the book a place with Hard Case Crime is described early in the book, a girl was murdered in the Horror House ride several years earlier, but the true story is Devin Jones’. It’s the tale of how he grows up, and as I’ve found most of King’s books to be, it’s really a character study. You quickly fall for Devin, and get drawn into the friends he makes at Joyland, and with Annie, and with Mike. There are more than a couple tear-up moments, and I’m sure that if you were to ask me later down the road what I remember most about this book, it will not be the murder mystery, or the ghost, or the wonderful behind the curtain look at carny life, it will be the goodbye scenes between the characters that will stand out the most.
In many ways, Joyland feels like the type of book King has been meant to write all along, or at least, it’s easy to see that this is a culmination of his writing career. His dialogue is truthful, his descriptions are detailed, but always allow for the imagination, and his characters stay with you, and ring true. There’s not a wasted word, yet each picture stands out clearly in your head. While I always look forward to more King, and love his brand of horror, I can’t help but hope that he continues to produce more like Joyland- for it has the type of heart I always love to read more of. And we could all use a little more magic.