Joyland (2013) – Stephen King

I should just listen to my gut. Just because my brain isn’t initially sure I’ll enjoy a Stephen King book that doesn’t fall into what I think is my ‘usual fare’ doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it. In fact, my gut constantly reminds me of titles that have surprised me, and we can add Joyland to that list now.

From its wonderfully lurid pulpy cover images to its coming-of-age tale that brushes gently against the idea of the supernatural, this one swept me in from its opening line. The book’s narrator, Devin Jones, takes us back to his early twenties in the year 1973. He’s missing and about to lose his girlfriend, and that’s going to impact everything he finds himself doing at the beginning of the summer, as he takes a job in North Carolina’s Joyland, a small theme park that very soon won’t be able to compete with the bigger parks down south.

He’s one of a new batch of summer employees, thrown into the deep end of the pool and expected to sink or swim. But Devin finds his calling, even temporarily, at Joyland by wearing the fur, and working hard.

The local fortune teller, who charms the rubes, I’m sure, tells him he’ll have two encounters this summer, one with a little girl and one with a little boy, one of them has the gift but she’s not sure which. Oh, and stay away from the dark ride, the Horror House, it’s haunted.

Jonesey digs into the story, learning a tale of murder that becomes a bit of an obsession, one he’s determined to solve, but nothing can prepare him for the life-changing events of that one summer. Heartbreak, discovery, terror, and joy all of them will play a part in Devin’s life and stay with him for the rest of his days.

King’s prose style is welcoming as always, inviting you in, making you comfortable with the characters and their environment, and the story wraps you up. I could relate to Devin in a lot of ways, the heartbreak I think is recognizable to everyone, and I like a number of twenty-somethings and younger, spent my summers working the rides and booths of Canada’s Wonderland, trying to make a buck.

Everything was recognizable to me, and the spookiness added just a hint of flavour, making you wonder (from a fan perspective) if it ties into the bigger King-verse, but that certainly wasn’t playing through my mind as I read it.

What really ran through my mind was the sense that King, as a writer, knows me, and knows how to tell his stories to me, and I think that’s the beauty of his writing; Uncle Steve feels like he’s doling out the story just for you, sharing its highs and lows (and man did I get a bit of a cry as the tale ended).

So a further note to my brain, just because you don’t think it’s a Stephen King book you’re going to like, and there are a few I haven’t read yet, trust your gut, and trust the man.

I really enjoyed Joyland, and can’t wait to explore some more of King’s titles that haven’t crossed my nightstand yet.

Thanks, Uncle Steve.


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