Audiobook Review: Joyland, by Stephen King
28 October 2013
Until 11/22/63 came out, I'd never read a Stephen King novel. I know, I know: shame on me. But I'm easily terrified, so his canon of horror novels never truly appealed to me. 11/22/63 was non-horrorish enough for skittish little me to take to it, and it turned me on to the power of King's stories and characters--and the depth of his imagination--in a big way.
And so I was delighted to hear of Joyland, which promised to be the classic mystery-with-a-twist type of novel that I looked for in 11/22/63 and not the blood-pouring-on-teenage-heads type of novel that has me so scared to read Carrie.
Joyland, not surprisingly, did not disappoint. The novel centers on Devin Jones, a college kid from New England who lands a job at Joyland, a classic pre-Six Flags amusement park in North Carolina, in the summer of 1973. Having just suffered his first major break-up, Devin marches into the summer like any 21-year-old virgin suffering from a bad case of heartbreak: ready to make new friends, work hard, and try to forget the girl--no matter how futile that last may seem. Along the way, he finds himself mildly obsessed with the mystery of the haunted Horror House in the park, looking for the ghost of a murdered woman in the park's "only dark ride."
Told in the first person, narrator Michael Kelly perfectly captures the heartbreak, ennui, and general attitude of Devin, known to his friends as Dev and his colleagues at the park as "Jonesy." Unfortunately, while the style of narration is perfectly suited to Devin's character, it's not suitable to car-listening--Kelly's sentences sometimes fade to mumbiling, and on more than on occasion, I had to back up to re-listen to a section to tell what was going on.
But if you're willing to go into this with a little patience, the narration style pays off. Kelly's--and therefore Devin's--retelling of that summer of '73 builds slowly, almost like an afterthought, the words of an old man reflecting on a summer long-past. But as events unfold, Devin becomes more invested in his own story, recounting with an urgency that was lacking at the outset of the novel.
This urgency reflects Devin's own growth over the summer, as he moves from New England college kid to heartbroken virgin to stand-his-ground man. It's hard to say how that all happens without giving too much away, but suffice it to say King has managed to work a coming-of-age tale into a murder mystery into the story of a haunted amusement park. It's a tale of the everyday, a story of a turning-point summer that we can all probably point to in our own lives, but tinged with enough intrigue and fantasy that you just might find yourself looking over your shoulder the next time you visit an amusement park yourself--that is, if you can still find one of the good ol' parks.
My inquiring self wants to know: If King's horror novels are too scary for me, but I dig his writing style and stories, where should I go next?
Note: This title is only available in paperback (from Hard Case Crime) and on audio, and was not released as an e-book per Stephen King's wishes.
Joyland | Stephen King, nar. Michael Kelly | Simon & Schuster Audio | June 2013 | Audio CD | 7 1/2 hours
Labels: 2013 books, 2013 fiction, audiobooks, book review, fiction, historical fiction, mystery, new books, RIP, suspense