A Summer of Death & Joy

When it comes to author Stephen King, really, what’s left to say? The man is a literary powerhouse, and his stories will be forever engrained into our collective psyche. Whether it’s the axe-wielding Jack Torrance of The Shining or the child-eating Pennywise the Clown from It, King’s fictional monsters are without question the stuff of nightmares.

Yet it’s the characters spun out of King’s own perceptions of the human condition that truly speak to us: characters such as Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption, or the quartet of young friends in search of a corpse from The Body (Rob Reiner’s 1986 film, Stand By Me), really make us stop and reflect upon the world we live in. It’s these characters that will be the author’s lasting literary contribution, and with his latest release, King successfully builds on this already impressive body of work. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Stephen King book without a little supernatural and murder mixed in as well, and, in this regard, Joyland doesn’t disappoint.

Joyland is the author’s latest work released through the pulp style Hard Case Crime book series founded by Charles Ardai and Max Phillips in 2004. Joyland’s back cover states it’s “a Novel of Carney Life and Death.” However, this crude sales pitch of King’s latest work only scratches the surface of what’s really going on in the book. Really, the novel is a coming of age story, a murder mystery and a supernatural horror all taking place around an old-time amusement park in the 1970’s.

The story’s protagonist, college student Devin Jones, is looking for summer work which he hopes will help him forget about the girl who recently broke his heart. He takes a job at Joyland but quickly uncovers more than just his own pining broken heart. It seems Joyland is haunted with a ghost of a young woman murdered several years earlier while riding the Horror House ride at the park. Furthermore, Joyland’s resident fortune-teller delivers an ominous premonition to Devin about his summer in the park: for Devin, this will be a summer that will change his life forever.

The author’s own strong sense nostalgia for the era gives the reader a strong feeling of familiarity as you ride shotgun in Devin’s life-altering summer. More so, King’s a master of creating atmosphere and his latest narrative is no exception. The novel’s characters come to life with ease and candor. Additionally, the “carney talk” used between the characters throughout the story allows the reader a sense of exclusiveness, an impression that you’re part of the inner workings of the amusement park.

On the surface, Joyland is a murder mystery/paranormal haunting tale; however, the deeper level of the story revolves around the naivety of first love, about growing up and about facing death – sometimes before your time. As far as Stephen King novels go, it’s a short read, tallying around 290 pages. However, one thing Joyland is not short on is reflections about our shared human experience that, in the end, leave us to question our own mortality. In conclusion, Joyland is another extraordinary and well-crafted story bought to you by the best storyteller alive. Do yourself a favor and pick it up today.