Joyland, by Stephen King

JoylandPoor Stephen King. I remember when this book came out and it was a big deal that it would a paperback original, only in print, so that people would have to actually read a gosh darn book or whatever. But although I checked out the paperback from my library, I actually ended up reading this one mostly on my Kindle, as it has been long enough that the publishers gave in to those high-tech readers with their confounded devices.

And, really, it wasn’t that much different, reading it both ways like I did. I’m sure the floppy paperback was meant to evoke the early-seventies setting of the book and really get you into the story, but let’s be real, it’s Stephen King and the man can write — I was happily hanging out in rural North Carolina even when I was reading pieces of the book on my fancy smartphone.

This is one of King’s.. quieter novels, for lack of a better word. It’s not a horror novel or a doorstop or a book with Things To Say or some combination of the three, but it’s very obviously a Stephen King novel and it is delightful.

What this book is is a reminiscence by a present-day Devin Jones about his experience working the summer of 1973 at the Joyland theme park. You know from the beginning that something kind of weird and/or terrible is going to happen that summer, but most of the story is about Devin just growing up — spending the summer away from a girlfriend who’s going to (and then does) break his heart, learning how to be himself, finding out what he loves besides the idea of love, that sort of thing. But there is weird stuff, of course, because it’s King, and what we get here is a sort of haunted-theme-park-slash-murder-mystery subplot in which Devin and his friends first wonder about the woman whose ghost is meant to be haunting the park and then sort of accidentally solve her murder.

There’s spookiness and intrigue and yet another kid with The Sight that King loves to give his characters, so if you’re over The Sight you may want to pass on this one, and there’s also wonderful description and spot-on emotional heft. I should probably mention that this book is intentionally a pulp-fiction, noir-y mystery, so the mystery-solving ending is almost necessarily contrived and quick, but the rest of the story is well paced and I probably would have enjoyed it even if the solving bit had been left out.

Reading this book, and even just thinking about it as I write this post, makes me want nothing more than to run off and join a carnival — but maybe just for a week or two because it sounds like a lot of effort, really, and I’ve got bills to pay that I don’t think carnival running can cover. But it’s a beautiful dream.

Recommendation: For chilly winter nights when you want to think about summer; for those who want to experience nostalgia for a place and time they’ve never seen.

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