Title – Joyland
Author – Stephen King
Published – 2013
Genre – Crime fiction
For me it feels like a long time since there’s been a new Stephen King title but that may be because his recent books have been so long they’ve been impractical to read when my current book needs to fit in my handbag. In fact I have been reading The Duma Key on a borrowed Kindle but checking on Goodreads I can see that I actually started it over a year ago and am now about half way through. So at least King ‘s decision to limit Joyland to print copies is made more practical by virtue of its length of under 300 pages.
The story is one that is more crime fiction than horror. The tale is told by Devlin Jones, and is his story of a summer job at the Joyland fairground in 1973. At the time he was just 21 and an aspiring writer, he has taken the job because, or perhaps inspite, of a relationship that isn’t quite going the way it should. But remember that as Devlin narrates the story he is doing so with 40 years of hindsight.
He takes a job as one of the Happy Helpers who work in the park, running the rides, setting up the stalls and generally making sure the guests have fun. He is teamed up with Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook (who is one of the Hollywood Girls) who would become lifelong friends. King brings the fairground to life with the sights and sounds of this piece of America that is now long gone under the pressure of Disney and the like. There is a story told by the permanent employees of ghosts and the haunting of the “Horror House” following the murder of a young girl 4 years previously. Something about the tale of the young girl murdered at the fair piques his curiosity and coupled with some incidents of second-sight by one of Joyland’s staff this introduces a slightly supernatural feel to the story. During Devlin’s time at the fair he also strikes up a friendship with a young boy who he meets on the beach and this managed to provide some of the more touching moments.
This is a slow tale, not an ‘in your face’ horror and the action is saved until the very end. This is more conventional (mainstream?) than many of King’s other books and in some ways reminded me of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Actually in a number of ways it also reminded me of The Duma Key, particularly the coastline setting and Devlin’s walks along the beach. There was also a mention of a doll that sounded pretty familiar to me too.
The story is contemplative, considered and thoughtful. Not quite the coming of age story of Stand By Me but certainly an important point in Devlin’s growth from boy to adult. Although the story is slow paced I still felt the need to rush through the pages wanting to find out more about the mystery at the heart of the story. If you like crime fiction but haven’t read any King before you should enjoy this but it’s not a great advert for many of his other books.
A good, and short, read.