Perhaps if I’d been born two or three decades earlier, I’d be able to rattle off a tale about how I became a helping hand at a little-known amusement park. Through the lens of Stephen King’s easy-to-digest prose and incredibly thorough research, we get to experience what it must’ve been like to ride a train down the eastern seaboard to take up a summer job learning carny talk, minding the rides and “wearing the fur”. In King’s second paperback exclusive, we follow the yarn of Devin Jones, a 21-year old college kid who just wants to forget about the girl who broke his heart.
I won’t lie: I was expecting more of a crime drama from a book with a “Hard Case Crime” branding. Instead, the mystery of Linda Gray’s murder, a specter that haunts Joyland, snakes through the background of a tale of young adulthood at an adult summer camp. As if you can hear Daniel Stern’s narration, Devin just wants to forget he ever knew about Wendy Keegan, the girl who went off to Boston and fell in love with the all-star lacrosse athlete and out of love with him, the guy who now suits up in a big dog outfit and entertains kids in the Wiggle-Waggle Village.
In fact, you wonder what would happen if King had just ditched the crime narrative and just built a story about Devin as a kid who finds a new romantic hope in Annie, an exhausted mother with the crippled son who has no grip on the world around her anymore. King definitely knows how to develop people and Devin’s narrative is pocked with nuance and reference that only a lived lifetime would be able to commit to fiction. Unfortunately, just like the heroic high school teacher time traveler he created in 11/22/63, Joyland‘s protagonist must ultimately bow to the book’s premise: a murder-mystery that’s handled more like Scooby Doo than Sherlock. Told as a memoir written by a man who simply got by in the 40 years since, much of the suspense is robbed when Devin mentions all of his supporting cast’s doings after the events of Joyland’s 1973 season, the most menacing of which are compressed into the third act of the book’s third act.
A breezy read, had my afternoon been a bit longer I would’ve finished Joyland in one. While I could’ve done without the dabble of supernatural and a story that seems to ramble as it approaches its last stop, Joyland is yet another example of King’s excellent vision into a time seemingly lost to us now.