Joyland is part murder mystery, part ghost story, part coming of age novel. There’s nothing ground-breaking about Joyland, but it’s the kind of novel that shows King at his best. He’s writing about real people experiencing real-life drama, it’s just in the context of a spooky story.
In 1973, Dev Jones is 21 and looking for a summer job that’s a little more interesting than washing dishes. He stumbles across a want ad for an amusement park job in North Carolina. His girlfriend wants “space” so this job fits the bill.
Can a greasy, dirty job change your life and the way you feel about yourself? Yes. I’ve been there. It’s not the job itself, it’s the friends you make, that sense of self-sufficiency and pride in a job well done. It’s realizing there’s more to life than book-learning. There’s something about hard physical work that erases the social boundaries we’re too often trapped in.
So I related to Dev, from his lovelorn angst to his pride in his success on the job (a lot of which involves cleaning up vomit on rides and wearing a giant dog costume).
King also tells a quick-moving story that doesn’t get too bogged down in details. This is a fun read – once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down. True, Mike and sexy mom Annie aren’t the most well-developed characters ever, but this book is exactly what it sets out to be: a fun, entertaining read.
Some of King’s best stories are the ones where the supernatural takes a back seat to human drama, and that’s what you get in this book. King is also very good at taking real things that are creepy (like the carnival funhouse) and amping up the emotional impact.
What keeps most of us coming back to King’s books again and again is that he writes the way people think. He may not be literary but he knows what’s going on inside our heads. I found a number of quotes in Joyland that I really liked. Here’s one:
When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure. By the time you’re sixty, take it from me, you’re fucking lost.
This quote describes my life pretty damn well. I don’t know about the sixty part, but I’m guessing King knows what he’s talking about.
There’s another line where Dev mentions that year as being the best and the worst of his life. And it sounds like a cliché, but the truth is, the hardest year in my life was also one of the best ones. I don’t know if that’s how it works for everyone, but it was true for me.
I also think your late teens/early twenties are always going to be the most powerful, vivid time in your life, which is why so many writers go back to those years. I wonder if most of us have “that year” that we internally relive over and over again, like it was yesterday. Twenty years go by and you’re still reliving that summer, or that school year, or maybe that moment when you could have done something differently.
Reading Joyland brought that all back for me.
Joyland was originally released only as a vintage paperback, which fortunately I found on my library’s sale table. I’m glad I did. For most books, the cover doesn’t matter, but here the cover is part of the fun of this throwback story.