I bought this short novel years ago and then completely forgot about it. Joyland was gathering dust on the shelf of my virtual Kindle library until I realized that I actually owned it. Given that it was well-received by both fans and critics, I decided to give it a shot. Michael Johnston's Soleri was a bit of a slog to go through at times and I felt that I couldn't go wrong with Stephen King.

Don't let the lurid cover art mislead you. This is no cheap pulp fiction. Indeed, Joyland is head and shoulders above those erstwhile noir potboilers. It's a coming of age story featuring a brokenhearted guy who gets so much more out of his summer job like only King can write. And, of course, a ghost story.

Here's the blurb:

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time—JOYLAND is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, JOYLAND is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.

It appears that King did a lot of research to get the backdrop just right. The authors goes to great lengths to explain the ins and outs of running an amusement park, from the maintenance of the rides to how the games are rigged. He also uses a lot of carny lingo to give the whole thing more credibility. All of this creates an imagery that allows Joyland to truly come alive. Which, in turn, elevates this book to another level. I never thought I'd learn so much about the amusement park business. The 1973 North Carolina setting was also a nice change of scenery from another yet New England environment.

Devin is a broke college student who takes up a summer job at a seaside amusement park in order to pay for his education back in New Hampshire. The poor sod has just been dumped by his girlfriend, so being far away in North Carolina will hopefully help him forget about her. But Madame Fortuna, Joyland's fortune-teller, warns him that there's a shadow over him. She also tells him that he will meet a boy and a girl, and one of them will have the Sight. As he settles into his new carny role and befriends fellow coworkers Tom and Erin, the thought of a murdered girl's ghost that can sometimes be seen by Joyland staffers continues to trouble him. As summer gives way to fall, still brokenhearted, Devin decides to take a semester off. He'll remain in Heaven's Bay to help close down Joyland for the winter season. That's when he'll meet the boy with the dog and his mother, and his life will change forever.

Joyland is told from the perspective of a much older Devin Jones. As per the cover blurb, the novel is a tale of love and loss and remembrance. Even if it's the coming of age of a young adult coming to terms with some harsh truths about life and becoming a man, there is an inherent sentimentality reminiscing about living back in the 60s and the 70s. If anything, the book is more about that than the ghost story. Beyond the nostalgia, it's about a more innocent and often melancholic youth recalled by an aging man looking back on a more vulnerable version of himself and the bittersweetness of his existence.

Weighing in at 283 pages, there are no pacing issues in this one. Such format precludes King's usual meanderings and forces him to write more tightly. Having said that, Joyland moves slowly at first. This allows the author to establish the plot and its characters. It's never fast-moving, mind you, yet it's never boring either.

The main problem with Stephen King, as everyone well knows, is that his endings often make or break his works. Hence, as good as a novel can be, the way King brings it to a close often influences on how good or bad it will turn out to be. I'm glad to report that Joyland benefits from an exciting finale and an emotional ending that should satisfy all readers.

The final verdict: 8/10

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You can read an extract here.

2 commentaires:

Shroud said...

Glad to have you back, Pat!

Patrick said...

Glad to be back! =)