Ever since I can remember I’ve always been creeped out by the thought of being in a carnival or amusement park after it closes. So anytime there’s a movie or book dealing with one I have to check it out.
Once, way back in my crazy, early 20’s, I made friends with a bunch of Carnies at the local carnival when it was in town. The perks of chumming it up while slumming it up are free rides until your head explodes or you barf up your Dr Pepper and funnel cake. Thankfully, neither of those actually happened. The rides closed down for the night before I could get my puke on. So, I got to face one of my fears and set myself up for a typical gnarly after school special – walking around a creepy ass dark carnival with a bunch of people that I didn’t know jack shit about. Some might say I don’t have common sense. I say deep down I’ve always known I was a writer and that’s my excuse for nearly all of the dumb things I’ve done. For the experience.
I’d been eyeing Joyland by King for nearly a year before I bought it. I was in Target, and it was the last copy on their shelves so I snatched it up. As soon as I was in the car I pulled it out, opened it up, and inhaled that glorious new book smell. Later on that night, I plopped down on the couch, cracked it back open and began to read. I was on page 70 when I realized that I should go to bed. However, I did the typical “I’ll finish this chapter and then go to bed…” It was in that moment that I realized, wait, what the HELL, this book has no chapters! What a sneaky, sneaky technique. Brilliant! Then the only logical thing was to stay up all night reading the entire thing.
I’ve never been a huge Stephen King fan. Hold on, take that trigger finger off of those flame throwers! In my defense, I only tried reading him when I was in high school. I’ve since purchased a few more of his books and am giving him another shot. I’m enjoying him this time around. A lot.
Going into this book I knew that it wasn’t going to be typical Stephen King because it’s not a horror story. Joyland is more of a coming of age meets crime, mystery and thriller all rolled into one great book. It’s also the first crime fiction that I’ve ever read. I was excited and nervous.
The prose flowed freely and was as refreshing as a cool glass of whiskey spiked lemonade on a hot summer afternoon. I found myself sucked in from the first page, not so much the first sentence though. It was rather unremarkable as far as first sentences go.
Although I enjoyed the story I feel like perhaps the book’s cover and tagline could be misleading. Don’t get me wrong, I actually adore the cover. A lot. It’s sexy, and nostalgic. What’s not to love? Except I feel that the tagline, which asks “Who dares enter the FUNHOUSE OF FEAR?” leads a reader to believe that the book is centered on this creepy funhouse, when in fact it’s not, that’s only part of the story. A central part of the story but still only a small part.
The story follows, Devin, a college junior who takes a summer job away from home in order to escape the heartbreak of his girlfriend dumping him. This leads him to Heaven’s Bay, North Carolina where the Joyland amusement park resides and where he embraces the life and wisdom of the Carnies. Devin makes some unexpected lifelong friends who change his outlook on the world forever. He also discovers that the park has a dark past involving a young girl who was murdered in the funhouse and that her killer may still be lurking around.
The characters were likable right out of the gate. I found myself sympathizing with the main character, Devin, with no trouble at all. There were other characters who touched my heart also, and I’ll shamelessly admit that I cried a few times while reading. The plot is simple yet solid, if not slightly cliché. Basically it’s a coming of age story about the summer that changed a young man’s life forever. The ending was a little anticlimactic for my dramatic tastes. The resolution of the killer left something to be desired, but that’s the only real complaint I have.
Joyland was a solid read. I highly suggest it for anyone looking for a darkly fun, yet meaningful, quick read.
Did you like Joyland? If you haven’t read it, what is your favorite Stephen King Book? What is your favorite movie or book set around a creepy carnival? Do darkened fun houses and empty midways creep you out too?
~*~ Listening to “Rosie Rose” by Suzi Quatro