Funhouse of fear!

KING - Joyland

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.

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12 comments

  1. I so wish I could read Stephen King, but I am the kind of girl who gets nightmares even after watching Scary Movie. Perhaps when I am older and better able to deal with scariness (heh, if that ever happens).

    1. Haha, yeah, you’ve mentioned that several times! :) I’ve noticed, though, that King’s getting more mellow with his horror. For some firmly realist (but no less emotionally grueling) fiction, his novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (on which the movie was based) is all feels. I thought it was startlingly unlike King when I first read it years ago, if only because it was non-horror. But I’ll always think it’s one of his best.

  2. aphazia · · Reply

    I love Stephen King! Although my fave would have to be his novellas under the pen name Richard Bachman– I like The Running Man the most. I’m not sure if you read this but I enjoyed reading it very much: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/magazine/stephen-kings-family-business.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    1. (Eek, I haven’t seen you around in a long time. Then again, I’ve hardly been in the blog myself, haha.) I’ve actually never read King as Bachman. I don’t even know why. Maybe, in my head, there’s this thinking that even as I go through his backlist I have to start with the stuff he’s more known for? Where do you think I should begin?

      And, yeah, I loved that article. There’s a book by Joe Hill on my shelves, and I’m really excited for it—and I’ve already taken a note to take a look at King’s daughter-in-law’s debut, too.

      1. aphazia · · Reply

        Haha I wish I had more time to read! I have Nos4atu by Joe Hill, and some scenes are so scary they’re almost nauseating. I haven’t finished it though, but am looking forward to finishing it soon.

        For some reason, I find that I love King’s books as Bachman and his short stories more than his hardcore novels. Although I’ve only read It, Thinner and Pet Sematary. Oh and The Green Mile.

        Maybe you can start with “Different Seasons”, which has The Body (where Stand by Me was based on) and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

        I read The Bachman books, which contained The Running Man and The Long Walk, two novellas I loved.

        Which book by Joe Hill do you have? Haha I just remembered I joined my very first geekfight a year or so ago since I heard that one of the topics would be Stephen King ang fangirl lang haha. :)

        I haven’t read The Shining, and I’m excited to read the ebook in the future, since I read that there’s a sequel called Doctor Sleep. Have you read The Shining? How was it?

      2. aphazia · · Reply

        I wish I had more time to read! I find that I love his novellas and short stories more than his novels, although I’ve only read: It, Thinner, (couldn’t finish Salem’s Lot so I gave it away), The Green Mile, Pet Sematary, Stephen King Goes To The Movies. I’ve yet to read The Shining, and I’m excited to read it since I read that there’s a sequel coming soon called Doctor Sleep! Have you read The Shining? How was it? Ang fangirl ko lang–I just remembered I joined my very first geekfight since one of the topics was Stephen King haha.

        I am reading Nos4atu right now. I like Joe Hill’s books and stories, but I seem to love Heart-Shaped Box the most. Nos4atu is really disturbing for me, but I can’t wait to finish it. Which book by Joe Hill is on your shelf?

        Maybe you could start with Different Seasons by King, which has The Body (where Stand By Me was based on) and Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (which I also love). But the book that I read which has The Running Man was The Bachman Books, which also has The Long Walk–I loved that as well. :)

        1. I’ve read most of King’s work, all but grew up with the guy, and I’ve been seriously toying with the idea of systematically going through his backlist. [Which is why I have to get around to finally starting on his Bachman books.] “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” has got to be one of my favorites of King’s. I read The Shining a long time ago, when I was much too young to appreciate it—although the film has got me spooked like crazy. I’ll probably reread right before Doctor Sleep comes out.

          The Joe Hill that’s with me is Horns—I’ll get around to it eventually.

          1. aphazia · · Reply

            Have you read the other books of Joe Hill? Maybe you’d like 20th century ghosts. I read Horns too, but I like Heart-Shaped Box more. But then that’s me. :)

            1. It would be my first Joe Hill, but I’m fairly certain I’d read more of him.

      3. aphazia · · Reply

        Haha sorry for replying twice! Thought my first comment was deleted so I tried my best to retype it haha

  3. I totally agree with you about King’s characters and “heart.” I enjoy the situations he sets up, but it’s the people he creates who keep me coming back. (And as far as the scares go, I find it helpful to remember that the good side usually wins in a King novel.)

  4. I am so looking forward to reading this, that whole macabre carnival world and that cover just scream out ‘juicy read’!

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