Print Edition: January 22, 2014
Even if you’ve never read any of his books, you know who Stephen King is. People usually associate King with blood-curdling horror stories that would frighten the elderly into early graves if they ever read one. This is partly true: Stephen King does write horror stories, but he also writes your normal, not-quite-run-of-the-mill mystery and fiction stories. Joyland is a mystery set in an amusement park. This is a good choice for readers who want to experience King’s writing, if only to see what all the fuss is about, without getting the colour scared out of their hair. As seen in previous novels such as The Green Mile and The Colorado Kid, King can go beyond horror and is just as adept at depicting genuine emotional distress based on everyday life situations.
Devin Jones, a college student, goes off in search for a summer job to take his mind off his broken heart. Seems simple enough, right? This story starts out as a simple introspective sabbatical, and turns into one of the more creative mysteries I’ve ever read.
As always, King has a gift for writing realistic, engaging dialogue, and this piece is no exception. King really makes the best of his ability to move a story along with dialogue. As in any other King story, however, the first third of the story is mostly set-up — background information. As a veteran King reader, I was able to navigate through this less-than-suspenseful part of the book and get to the much-awaited climax. But this is something I’ve heard from those who are unfamiliar with Stephen King over and over: “He just doesn’t cut to the chase fast enough.” While that may be a legitimate comment, I feel it works in the story’s best interest to delay the climax in favour of character building and setting up enough suspense to make the arc of the story worthwhile.
Although there is a supernatural element to this story, as there most always is with King, it’s not the most important part of it, I find. Sure, in regards to the events of the story, it is. But, in terms of the feeling one is left with after reading, it’s human interaction that really carries the flame in this book.
King has a knack for showing us how easy it is to bring out either the best or the worst in a person, and perhaps more importantly, almost glorifies flaws in protagonists. It brings home the fact that people are not perfect — they’re complicated, and that’s what makes this story interesting and engrossing.
It’s also what makes King such an effective writer, the fact that he doesn’t shy away from human imperfections, instead embracing them as one would an old friend, and letting the reader judge whether or not those flaws make a character worth caring about. In this case, I would say they do.