Cover painting by Glen Orbik
Publisher: Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
Published: 7 June 2013
On the cover:
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.
This novel belongs to King's "growing up" group of stories. But with a twenty-one year old main character it is not growing up in the sense that we usually see it from King. Here it is more a case of when you finally become an adult, and even that can be debated. Not that it really matters, that underlying theme could easily be substituted with another one without really changing the story. I have to say though, that King does that part of the story very well.
Unusually enough this starts out as a story about a summer job. Being that the story is written by King, this isn't a job that is par for the course for everyone, and in that lies some of the genius of the book.
Joyland, the place the book gets its title from, is more than just the setting for this story, it's also a character in itself, in the same way that a city is a character in Urban Fantasy. The way Joyland is put together of a wast number of different parts, often represented by the people, is extremely well done. It is actually so good that this would work very well as a novel even without the Crime element that comes in to it.
A setting like Joyland is really dependent on the characters that inhabit it. And the characters here are really a joy to discover. They may be a bit archetypal, and recognizable, to the setting they are in. (King isn't trying to reinvent the wheel in that department.) But what is important is that they do not feel like they are part of the scenery, and they don't do that here. Almost all the named characters get enough time to develop real personalities and come alive to the reader. None of those that are important to the story is neglected in that regard.
This is in some way a character-driven story, and it is one told in first person. As such the main character, Devin Jones, is essential to the enjoyment of the novel. Devin is interesting to get to know, he's really up to the job of carrying this story. Where he is in life when this story starts means that he could have easily become a pure product of his circumstances, but thankfully that is avoided.
What Devin goes through in his personal life could have been annoying, and I was afraid it would turn to that, instead I found it to be very recognizable and realistic. King manages to tell about this pivotal point in the life of Devin while keeping him one hundred percent real. It sometimes feels almost as if this is an autobiographical story told by Devin Jones.
The Crime element is introduced fairly early, but it doesn't really take over the narrative for good once it is. It's something that is always there in the background, like an ambient noise, and when it is called for it springs into the foreground and takes over the stage.
As mysteries go this is an interesting one. It is partly connected to paranormal events, but that is an element that is mostly toned down here. The mystery itself gets revealed to us in a way that works very well, and is satisfying to those that like libraries. But what is most important about this mystery is that it creates an eerie feeling.
That eerie feeling, a feeling that something that just isn't like it should be, is something that comes at several times in the story, not always connected to the mystery either. King creates an atmosphere of the familiar becoming unfamiliar, and in some sense creepy, several times. That atmosphere of looking at something from an unfamiliar angle goes for the whole setting too, it's in some ways what Joyland is all about. And the atmosphere King creates is really a brilliant one.
King is often talked about as an author who writes bad endings, not always deserved in my opinion. This time I think the ending will satisfy fully, and I can't really say there's something to really criticize it for.
There's really not anything to complain about through the whole novel. This is certainly King's best recent novel, and I would also say that it is King at his absolute best. That this isn't rooted in SFF, like so much of King's fiction, should make it more accessible to those that read only Mainstream novels too. And they should pick this up, actually everyone should, this isn't just a great King novel: It is a great novel.
REVIEWS: Stephen King Review Index