Culture & Criticism Since 2003
When Stephen King writes to his considerable strengths as an author, he stands well above the level of any other scribblers using the English language.
Nobody can touch King when it comes to creating powerful, unforgettable, REAL characters. He is unmatched in his ability to foreshadow and mystify, and to build suspense.
And then there is the atmosphere.
Joyland has been variously described as a thriller, a whodunnit, a suspense, and a coming-of-age story. It’s all of that, and those are millieux where King is…well, the chairman.
The eponymous Joyland is a run-down second-rate amusement park grimly clinging to existence in the “Redneck Riviera” on the coast of North Carolina when Devin happens on the scene: “I was a twenty-one year-old virgin with literary aspirations. I possessed three pairs of bluejeans, four pairs of Jockey shorts, a clunker Ford (with a good radio), occasional suicidal ideations, and a broken heart.”
This was Devin’s ‘lost year’; he takes off the summer and the following winter from college to work at Joyland. The park is the subject of a four-year old murder mystery, over-run by a possible ghost and a large cast of carnies, roustabouts and booth purveyors who, with varying degrees of cynicism, create fun for the rubes.
Meanwhile, Devin (along with the other major characters), are all haunted by their own personal ghosts – both from their pasts and their futures.
The language used by the carnies throughout Joyland is rich and vivid (and largely of King’s own inventing, as he cheerfully admits in the afterword) – the characters bearing the remarkable King trait of being full-fleshed, genuine and unforgettable.
Looking back, there are books that I sometimes describe as “books by King for people who don’t like King.” This line would be for the people who dismiss him as “just a horrorstory writer.” Samples of those books are “Stand by Me” and “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.”
Joyland belongs on that list. It reads like King at his very best.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.