Raven Reviews: Joyland by Stephen King
[one_half] I'm a fan, no question about it. While I don't think I've read every Stephen King book ever published, I've read most of them, even sat around for hours talking about the links and clues that he cleverly puts in some to tie them together. There's a lot of those, especially in the Dark Tower series, which is outstanding. And then along came "On Writing", which I recommend in my writing classes as the best most no-nonsense advice book on writing well ever published, which it is. But what I love most of all that he does is the coming-of-age stuff, like the kids in Stand By Me and those who made up the Losers Club in IT. He's got an almost uncanny knack for getting into the minds of adolescents and children and giving us their thoughts, hopes and dreams - from that first glimpse of lace-trimmed panties to the unsuspecting parent's unheard goodnight said to the empty bed, camouflaged with a lumpy blanket.
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In Joyland, our protagonist is a little older, but pretty much as innocent. As part of the "Hard Case Crime" imprint, King gives us the story of college student Devin Jones, who takes a summer job at an old-school amusement park in North Carolina in 1973, with a mysterious death in its past and the ghost of the victim seen now and then. I'm not sure it fits the hardboiled criteria, but it fits every criteria I have for a great read - Devin's everyone's nice guy, reeling from a breakup from his first true love, and wide open to new experiences, good and bad. He gets plenty of them, and the other characters in this story are a delight. Lane, the ultimate carny, Fred the stalwart manager, the mysterious woman who lives in an old Victorian on the beach, with her son, who's in a wheelchair.
Most of all, though, there's the owner of the park, Mr. Easterbrook, an elderly man who has faith in the power of entertainment, and sad at the turning of it into a Disney plastic adventure. As he says, "This is a badly broken world, full of wars, cruelty and senseless tragedy. Every human being who inhabits it is served his or her portion of unhappiness and wakeful nights. Those of you who don't already know that will come to know it. Given such sad but undeniable facts of the human condition, you have been given a priceless gift this summer: you are here to sell fun."
That just might qualify as hardboiled, especially given the last 40 years since then. One thing it does qualify for is a great story by the best in the business at great stories. From carny talk to broken hearts, Mr. King has done himself proud.