Just popping my head in fairly quickly—there’s books to read and tea to drink and (hopefully) a good night’s sleep to be had. So. Ahem. Right. I’ve said over and over that Stephen King and I go way back—it all began when I filched his mass markets from my mother’s dresser at nine, and scared the crap out of myself when I read them under the covers thereafter. In the years that followed, my mom and I would unearth remaindered copies of his books at secondhand shops; I’d rediscover him via the blessedly extensive collection at the college library; I’d return to him again and again, via a life- and love-consuming quest of the Dark Tower or some sanity-shattering mission to save JFK’s life. Steve and I, we buds from way back. So: Of course I’d devour Joyland. That delightfully pulp (and faithful to the content!) cover, and the invitation: Who dares enter the funhouse of fear? Pshaw—YOU KNOW I DO, STEVE.
Beneath his folksy horror and glee at the supernatural (or, simply, the other-worldly), what I’ve always admired about Ol’ Steve is the heart that’s so palpable with every story. (It’s more obvious in some than others—“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is on one end of the spectrum, and The Shining is on another.) Joyland, stripped to show only the genre’s barest bones, accomplished for me a normalcy that seems freakish when compared to the rest of King’s work.
It’s this relative bareness, however, that allows the reader to see how skilled King is at crafting credible characters—with motivations and ambitions that are rarely grandiose but always in earnest, people caught in the weirdness almost always despite themselves. In Joyland, we have a young man during that one formative summer he worked at the titular rundown amusement park—he’s got a girl he can’t get over with, this is his first shot at being independent; there’s the novelty of the experience, there’s the sometimes-not-navigable world of adults. It’s just that there’s a haunted house that’s got his curiosity peaked. Moreover—and, I suppose, strangely enough—King’s adeptness at creating atmosphere translates rather well: I was steeped into the amusement park world, and especially loved how easy King made it to be that way.
One of the reviews I’ve seen of Joyland describes it as “a minor work, but great one,” and I heartily agree. It’s not as grand in the Feels it brings to the table as with “Shawshank,” not as expansive and audaciously epic in the world-building as the Dark Tower series, and not as goddamned terrifying as most of the man’s work. But it’s damned good, damned diverting literature. And, besides, it’s always nice to hear from an old friend.