When I started reading Stephen King as a kid, I completely fell in love with his writing. However, while it was his horror that drew me in, it was something else that made him my favorite author in the world. I don’t care if it is a story about a man who buries his toddler, a woman trapped in a car with her son while a vicious dog tries to kill her, or four young boys walking down a railroad track in a coming-of-age story, King brings us real people that we feel the horror through.
Yes, there are vampires, zombies, evil wizards, and sometimes the devil himself, but it is the people who suffer through these situations that make his stories great. No one is better than Stephen King when it comes to presenting characters in a way that we can all relate to. Sure, Randall Flagg is one of the best villains of all time, but it is names like Stu Redman, Nick Andros, Larry Underwood and Tom Cullen are names that stick out to me as well.
As a matter of fact, some of his best stories are about real people in real situations (Shawshank Redemption, The Body). When these normal people are in supernatural situations, it makes them even more perilous.
Joyland, like many Stephen King fans might expect, has a supernatural twist. However, while there is a ghost, the movie has little to do with the ghost. This book is more like The Body (Stand by Me) than it is like The Shining, a coming-of-age story that cares more about the growth of Devin Jones into a man than about the ghost that haunts the Horror House.
Joyland is Stephen King’s second book in the “Hard Case Crime” series, a series of books where famous authors write hard boiled pulp-styled books. King’s first book in the series was The Colorado Kid, which became the TV show Haven. While King has been one of the first authors to trumpet the advent of eBooks, he has refused to release this outside of the paperback style that pulp novels is famous for. Many people have complained and refused to buy it unless it is released in eBook format. Those people are missing out on a gem.
While the novel does not fit into the pulp crime genre, King does a good job of transporting the reader into the world of carnies in the early ‘70s, as we step into the world in the shoes of Devin Jones, a college student who takes a year off from school after his girlfriend dumps him. What we then get is a coming-of-age story about a boy who becomes a man, making it a very similar story to Stand by Me.
The supernatural aspect is a ghostly girl who haunts a ride called the Horror House, the same ride in which she was killed years before. What is interesting is, outside of the legend and a fortune teller who foretells Devin’s future, nothing supernatural even happens until more than halfway through the novel. What makes it even more interesting is that, as readers who view the entire story through Devin’s eyes, we never even see the supernatural occurrences.
Instead, we get to see Devin meet two new friends (Erin and Tom) as well as a woman named Anne and her son Mike, a young man with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, a disease that will kill him at a young age. What makes the story great is these relationships and how they all help Devin become the man he becomes at the end of the novel.
Stephen King has always been best at writing short stories, and while this is a full length novel, it is much shorter and tighter than almost anything King has done in years, and it remains a fantastic read. One thing that King has always struggled with is his endings, but the end of Joyland might have one of the best endings of his career, a climax that actually made me tear up some.
There is a mystery in this story, but it is not what makes this book memorable. The story of Devin Jones is what makes this novel great.
At the end of the day, Joyland is a fantastic read and arguably one of Stephen King’s best stories in years. Sure, it’s only available in paperback, but maybe that is a plus because everyone needs to hold a real book in their hands once in a while.. Do not miss out on this book, you won’t be disappointed.