Date started: June 8th
Date finished: June 12th
Joyland is a hard book for me to review. I like to remain as objective as I can be, to give a balanced opinion on everything I read, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. But how is that possible when this book is stacked against so many expectations? Especially when it manages to subvert nearly all of them.
Joyland is being marketed as a crime thriller. It is not. So, let’s talk about what it is. It is unmistakably Stephen King. The way he managed to evoke a feeling of nostalgia for 1950’s middle America in 11.22.63 is in full force here, but for the 1970’s, and a shitty summer job in one of the last non-corporate theme parks, and for Carny life in general. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of that Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart flick, Adventureland, but with a dash of murder mystery and the supernatural thrown in.
And when I say a dash, I do mean a dash. Anyone coming into this on the promise of a young adult putting clues together to solve an old murder is going to be disappointed, because that’s strictly relegated to B-plot. The actual story is about Devin Jones, a student who gets dumped by his first love shortly after starting his summer job at the eponymous Joyland. Much of the story centres around his friendships with his fellow workers, as well as a wheelchair bound boy with muscular dystrophy and his mother. Devin learns the Talk, which is the language all the Carnies speak, and generally tries to get over his heartbreak. Oh, and the boy has a psychic gift (which is suspiciously similar to the Shining) and one of the rides is haunted by the ghost of the girl who was murdered within.
I know that sounded like an afterthought, but there really isn’t a whole lot to that storyline. The book itself is a coming of age novel, written in that way only Stephen King could. I only mention the murder story as an afterthought, and it’s because I don’t feel the book would have suffered without its inclusion. Which I suppose ties into the expectations I mentioned at the start.
In many ways, it felt like King included those aspects because it’s what is expected of him after so long. It’s clear in reading Joyland that King became fascinated by Carny culture and the Talk, and it’s these areas where the book really shone through. As with the majority of King’s works, he really nails the characters. Each has their own personality, and Devin’s interactions with people like the delightful ride operator Lane Hardy, or the curmudgeonly Eddie Parks were what kept me reading. The only character who is really devoid of personality is Devin’s ex girlfriend Wendy, who is more notable to the story by her absence than by her presence.
Ultimately, Joyland is a good book. The plotlines, such as they are, come together well enough at the end, and at only 283 pages, it’s a relatively brisk read, perhaps best left to a summer afternoon in the garden. It’s unfortunate that such a solid character piece will likely end up being so much background noise against the legacy Stephen King has left for himself. Worth checking out, but ultimately destined to be forgotten.
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