Joyland by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'd been meaning to pick up this book for a while. Then I saw it at my local library, and I pounced on it.
Joyland is about 21-year-old Devin Jones in the summer of 1973. He's telling the story from the present day, so it's tinged in nostalgia. He often pauses the narrative to tell the reader what's happened to various characters since 1973. That summer, he takes a job working at an amusement park on the North Carolina coast, his longtime girlfriend dumps him, and he investigates a serial murderer to put a ghost to rest.
A literal ghost. This is Stephen King, after all. There's also a fortune teller with a touch of real foresight (Devin sometimes calls her a gypsy, which he doesn't seem to have learned by present day is a racial slur), and a precocious boy. Besides the familiar elements, there's the Stephen King style, like you sat down for story time with your favorite uncle at dusk and didn't remember until after dark your uncle's stories scare the crap out of you. This isn't the scariest of King's stories, but the horror elements sneak up on you. They're all the more chilling for feeling as real as the oppressive North Carolina heat.
Like all good speculative fiction, this isn't just a ghost story, or a murder mystery. It has some things to say about life and death, keeping things in perspective, human nature, and what we've trampled over in our march toward progress. Joyland has its rough edges, but the world is less colorful without it. And, though Devin's experience is hardly typical, the book takes the view that later generations are missing out by being denied a summer laboring away under the hot sun in the pursuit of giving families a fun day. This book is set before I was born, and I still felt nostalgia for its time.
This is an enjoyable, if chilling, tale about ghosts, murders, and growing up. It's quintessentially Stephen King, so, if you like his stuff, you'll probably like this. And, if you don't, you might give it a chance, anyway. It could surprise you.
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