Stephen King rivets the reader to the chair with Joyland, a fast paced mystery and ghost story set in 1973. He captures young innocence and mixes it with shocking murders to create an enjoyable horror read.
His college age protagonist, Devon Jones’ personality tugs at the reader’s heartstrings. He takes a summer job in Heaven Beach, North Carolina, at the Joyland amusement park. Both the park and the town names imply a harmless serene lifestyle, and the kind of atmosphere Devon needs to forget about life for awhile.
He’s taken the job because his girlfriend, Wendy Keegan sounds a death knell in their relationship. She’s announced that they need to spend some time apart over the summer. It is Devon’s first loss of childhood virtue, but not his last.
Devin snags an apartment at Emmalina Shoplaw’s beachside accommodations. He shares the house with fellow workers, Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook. Together they learn about life and the amusement park industry.
Erin’s a vivacious redhead and a member of the park’s Hollywood Girls. They take the souvenir pictures to sell to the park visitors. Erin is also the brain of the trio; she does the library research to help solve the murders.
King’s cast includes a bunch of park regulars. They make up the permanent staff at Joyland. They’re pure carnies, or carnival folk. They teach Devin the ropes and the lingo of working the rides, the games, and the guests. Bradley Easterbrooke owns the park, and Fred Dean runs it.
Lane Hardy teaches Devin about the rides. He learns about the Carolina Spin, the Devil Wagons, Thunderball, and the Delirium Shaker. Most important to the story is the Horror House. Linda Gray haunts it. Her date killed her during the ride, and he hasn’t been caught.
Erin and Tom return to college at the end of the summer. Devin stays on to help shut the park for the winter. He isn’t ready to return to the University of New Hampshire. To fill the gap and expand Devin’s growth, King introduces two new characters, Ann and Mike Ross.
Ann enjoyed the sixties, and her young son, Mike came from her time in Greenwich Village. Mike suffers from poor health. As a result his mother is overprotective. She also has issues with her televangelist father who claims Mike’s debilitating illness is punishment for his mother’s sins. Devin wanders into the middle of it. Again we see innocence lost in a number of ways, but maybe not all of them bad.
Stephen King shows the reader the innocence of youth, but he also illustrates the nastiness of the world. People desire to be safe and protected. They look to the amusement park as a means of escape from reality. The bright lights, sounds, and amusement park rides offer thrills and adventure that contain a promise of safety. Yet, underneath the façade runs a current of chicanery and danger.
To read Joyland you’ll need to buy the paperback. Stephen King has not signed over the electronic publishing rights, and he doesn’t intend to sign them over anytime soon. He wants to support the small press publisher Hard Case Crime, the same publisher that published his Colorado Kid novel.
By Stephen King
June 4, 2013
Hard Case Crime, 283 pages, $12.95