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Jul 05

Stephen King's Joyland: Not the Usual

Joyland by Stephen King

From left to right: the cover on the paperback that you could go buy at a local bookstore RIGHT NOW, the map that was included with the sooper seekrit hardbound limited edition, and the cover of that limited edition.

Might as well establish this up front: I’m a Stephen King fan. (Some people aren’t, but hey, there’s no accounting for taste.) I am not, however, a horror fan. Not really. So when I read his work that can be classified as horror—which, by the way, is only a portion of it, despite where it’s shelved—I’m reading it because it’s King, not because of the subject matter. Sometimes I’m reading it in spite of the subject matter. His characterizations, his descriptions, his story arcs, his tone, even his infamous wordiness—they all work for me. Joyland is no exception. It’s classic Stephen King … except it isn’t.

How isn’t it classic King? Well, it’s under 300 pages—MADNESS, yes?—and only available as a paperback (except for the collector’s hardbound limited editions). That’s right, no ebook. It’s also not horror, and it’s not like his other non-horror stuff (except maybe a bit like The Colorado Kid, only better). Joyland is mostly a classic murder mystery, tinted with a little retro pulp. I am a fan of whodunnits, and this is a good one, red herrings and all.

But. In a way, it is still classic King. There’s college student Devin, the thoroughly decent protagonist. There’s the genius way King has of making us be where his characters are, in both physical and mental space. There are some losses, and some wins, and some things that go bump in the night. And there is the prose, so friendly, so relaxed, so Stephen King that you can drink in the whole book and not even realize how smoothly it’s going down.

I don’t want to say much more about Joyland—I hate reading a book review that tells me more than I wanted to know—but it’s not giving too much away, I think, to tell you that as the book opens in the early summer of 1973, Devin starts working at a mid-sized amusement park (Joyland, natch), that he’s healing from a broken heart, and that he’s helping some others heal as well—all while trying to solve an old murder mystery. All the parts come together seamlessly, though. That’s more classic King for ya.

This is one of those books that should appeal to even those who are not habitual King readers. I’m not going to say that I loved Joyland … but I liked it a lot. Enough that I’m tempted to pick it up again right now, even though my to-read list just gets longer every day.

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