joylandIf you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that Teresa and I are both big Stephen King fans. In fact, I used to be able to say that I’d read all of King’s traditionally published novels (i.e., I missed some of his work published in other formats — only as an e-book, or only as a graphic novel.) I think now I’ve missed one or two, and some of his nonfiction, but I’m close. So when I saw his novel Joyland — his second effort for the Hard Case Crime imprint — I snapped it up, knowing my chances were good that I’d enjoy it.

King’s first novel for Hard Case Crime, The Colorado Kid, wasn’t traditional pulp. (Most of what they offer is — people like James M. Cain, Donald Westlake, and new authors who write in that same vein.) There was no sex, no violence, maybe no crime, and no real solution offered to the mystery. It was a yarn told by two old-timers to a young woman, letting her into the old boys’ club, and allowing the solution to remain ambiguous. It was an odd little book — and I do mean little, clocking in at about 180 pages or so, very unusual for King — but it was atmospheric and interesting, and left me with the feeling that there was more to be uncovered.

In some ways, Joyland, also a short novel for King (close to 300 pages), is more in the spirit of pulp, but it doesn’t exactly walk the mean streets. The narrator, Devin Jones, is a college kid who has taken a summer job at Joyland in 1973, an amusement park in North Carolina. Some of the most interesting and entertaining parts of the book have to do with his learning the park: the language of the old-time carnies, the rides, the “wearing of the fur” (you’ll see), and most of all the selling of fun.

But of course there’s more to it than that. Some years ago, the park was the site of a vicious murder, and there are rumors that the haunted house is… er… haunted. Who killed Linda Gray? There’s a child sitting on the beach with his mother who might be able to help with that question. How? You’ll have to find out for yourself.

To be honest, if The Colorado Kid could be accused of not having enough going on in it, Joyland has too much, and it suffers for being only (!) 300 pages long. There’s the storyline of Devin’s extreme heartbreak when his college girlfriend Wendy breaks up with him. There’s the murder, split into two stories: the ghost, and trying to track down the murderer. There’s the everyday job of working at the park. And there’s the child and his mother. In the end, all those balls can’t stay in the air well enough; they are all resolved, but some of them feel anticlimactic, and some of them feel overdone and overhyped. The breakup was especially wearying, as it doesn’t really have much to do with the main story, and it causes the adult Devin, who is our narrator, to say a couple of misogynistic things that jar unpleasantly with the nice-college-kid Devin we are following. Dude. You’re in your sixties and you’re still this bitter about a one-year college relationship? Get a grip.

That said, though, Joyland may be a little overstuffed, but it was still really enjoyable. Weed out a couple of the plot lines, and you’ve got a fun pulp novel in a nonstandard location that was vividly evoked, with good characters and an interesting ending. The blurb on the back of the novel compared this to The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption… well, no. But it was a lot of fun, and a quick read, and I’d recommend it on that basis to anyone.

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18 Responses to Joyland

  1. I don’t read a lot of King, but have really wanted to read both Shawshank and The Green Mile. Maybe I will tackle those twoe before I read this one- great review-thanks!

    • Jenny says:

      Those are both great places to start, especially if you don’t enjoy horror. They’re also not huge investments in terms of time — even though The Green Mile was written as a serial, it doesn’t add up to one of his huge chunksters like It or The Stand, and Shawshank is really only a fairly long short story.

  2. Pingback: Joyland |

  3. Rory says:

    I can’t wait to read this one. I don’t think it will exactly be his best ever, but it sounds like a fun summer read.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s just what it is — perfect for a vacation read, perfect for the beach or something. Nice thrilling escapist fiction of the kind we all need!

  4. Yours is the first review I’ve read on this one. It’s on my summer list.

    • Jenny says:

      Wow, it’s so seldom I get in a review first on something. I’m usually years behind. :) I hope you enjoy it!

  5. Stefanie says:

    My husband is a big King fan but hasn’t been interested in Joyland because he didn’t like Colorado Kid much. I’ll have to tell him what you thought about it though, he might change his mind.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, this is quite different in tone and content from Colorado Kid — much more traditional pulp, with some trademark classic King thrown in. He’ll probably like it pretty well, even if it’s not top-of-the-line King.

  6. Sasha says:

    I may have let out an ungodly sound at the bookstore when I saw this just yesterday. (I didn’t know it was out already!) I didn’t know zip about it until I read your review [oh god, it’s still in a paper bag at home]—but King has always been near and dear to me, the crazy ol’ coot.

    And Shawshank is up there with the King greats. I think I went, “Oh, really now?” when I read that in the blurb, haha. Good to know you guys loved it!

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, that comparison is an exaggeration! But Joyland is still a lot of fun. And it’s so nice to have another reader who really appreciates King (the crazy ol’ coot) — with a few exceptions, he’s been reliably entertaining for 40 years now!

  7. JaneGS says:

    Ever since I read 11/23/63, I’ve been wanting to read more Stephen King but his standard fare creeps me out to much. This actually sounds like something I would enjoy, as well as The Colorado Kid.

    > Dude. You’re in your sixties and you’re still this bitter about a one-year college relationship? Get a grip.

    That made me smile!

    • Jenny says:

      Teresa and I have several recommendations of non-creepy King! Several of his books have no horror at all and are very good for people who don’t enjoy lying awake at night wondering if they are going to be murdered by vampires or clowns. :) The Talisman, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and his Gunslinger series (fantasy rather than horror) are great places to begin.

  8. gaskella says:

    This is in my holiday reading pile. I love that King has published it in paperback only to support bookshops.

  9. Nicola says:

    Never read a King novel, but I really like the sound of this. Good title, too. I must read it.

    • Jenny says:

      It was quite enjoyable! I’d recommend The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon to someone who doesn’t enjoy horror but would like to try King’s work. The Talisman is also a great way to begin, though that has much more fantasy in it.

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