Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Shrewd Observations, Sly Thrills Make for an Appealing Trip to 'Joyland' -- Book Review

Book Review

a novel by Stephen King
new but available in paperback

I don't write this review as an expert on Stephen King.

I've actually read only one other of his books--2011's masterful 11/22/63 (my review)--and haven't even seen that many of the movies based on them, at least not recently.

So though I know he is a terrific writer whose oeuvre extends well-beyond the horror genre, I can't comment on how Joyland--part supernatural suspense novel, part coming-of-age story--compares to works such as Carrie, The Shining, It, Misery and Dolores Claiborne.

At just 288 pages, Joyland is an enjoyable read--well-worth $7.32 for the paperback (published by Hard Case Crime) on Amazon, though mine was borrowed from a friend--and though seemingly quite different from the 880-page 11/22/63 (and conceivably some of King's aforementioned classics), in one key sense it was rather similar:

It takes a good while to get where it's going, but the journey winds up being just as--if not more--fulfilling than the destination.

Per its title, 11/22/63 revolves around the John F. Kennedy assassination, but in being a tale of a man who finds a way to go back in time--and does so with hopes of changing history--the first 500 or so pages are largely about a 21st century adult acclimating to life in the late-50s, early-60s, with King providing many enlightening insights about how times have changed, and how they haven't. Only in the latter part of the book do events in Dallas acutely come into play.

This isn't all that different from Joyland, which is narrated as a present-day recollection about events occurring in 1973. With my sense of it being a thriller exacerbated by the Hard Case Crime imprint, it is ostensibly a fictional murder mystery regarding a death that had previously taken place in a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. But the bulk of the book is devoted to detailing the experiences and emotions of its protagonist, a 21-year-old college student from New Hampshire named Devin Jones, who spends the summer of '73 working at Joyland.

King deftly puts the reader in the head of Jones as he experiences love, loss, friendship, "carny" life, valiant moments, wearing a key Joyland costume and, ultimately, engaging in a bit of crime-solving.

Thus, Joyland was not the rapid-fire page turner I was expecting--and in depth, not the equal of 11/22/63--but nonetheless rather satisfying as both a socio-cultural time capsule and, albeit a bit more subtly, as a suspense thriller. (Though as a reader review on Amazon points out, there is a flaw in the writing as things begin to unravel; ask me after you read the book.)

But whether or not you're well-versed in Stephen King, Joyland should provide plenty of pleasure as a end-of-summer paperback, one that notably--and aptly, given its regaling of an earlier time--isn't available electronically.

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