Sunday, August 25, 2013


by Stephen King
(London: Titan Books, 2013)
Trade Paperback, 283 Pages, Fiction

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.

I approached Joyland with some trepidation. I have become quite disillusioned with Stephen King’s writing in recent years. Lisey’s Story, Duma Key, Under the Dome, Just After Sunset, Mile 81 … they’ve all not been quite up to snuff with King’s earlier works such as ‘salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, and Bag of Bones. With the approaching sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, I was justifiably worried. The Shining is, in my mind King’s best piece of writing, and to attempt to write a sequel for it nearly forty years later had me concerned. So, with all that in mind, I picked up Joyland to test the waters and see whether or not King still “had it.”

He does.

I was absolutely surprised by what I found in Joyland. There is not a single wasted word in this book, and King’s waning storytelling ability seems to have come back in full force. I absolutely loved every minute that I was in Devin Jones’ world. The story, while taking some time to get started, is gripping and compelling. It is a tidy little whodunit that succeeds in spite of itself.

What I mean by that is that there is a bit of the problem Under the Dome had, and that is King can spin a great yarn, but seems to have problems (in recent years) satisfactorily ending his stories. Under the Dome was anticlimactic, Duma Key was disappointing and Joyland has more than a whiff of the deus ex machine about it. And yet, in spite of the god coming down from the rafters at the last minute, Joyland could have been a lot worse than it ended up being. In fact, it is a lot better than it really has any right to be.

The more I think about it, the more I like this book and the tidy little story it tells. Really, nowadays (and Mile 81 and the stories in Just After Sunset notwithstanding) this is when King is at his best: 300 pages or less. Long enough to tell a really compelling and exciting story, but not long enough for the thread to get lost in the weeds (as happened in Under the Dome).

Joyland is also helped by the fact that its characters, especially those of Devin Jones and Lane Hardy are very well written and quite alive in their depiction. It helps that these two central characters are as alive within the pages of Joyland as it allows the reader to become lost in the story and let Devin and Lane as well as Annie and Mike and Erin and all the rest, carry you along and help you experience the events at the Joyland Amusement Park as they did.

In spite of its handful of flaws (which really are minor) Joyland is a welcome return to the Stephen King of The Shining, ‘salem’s Lot and The Stand and it gives me hope for Doctor Sleep and the return of Danny Torrance.

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