Joyland was my last King book of 2018, and a brilliant choice to close the year with because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.
Joyland is a King novel I hadn’t heard huge amounts about, but during the month of December, I wanted to read one of his shorter novels; a fellow reader recommended Joyland, and I’m so glad she did, because I really enjoyed it! I read the illustrated edition and I would urge you, if possible, to do the same – it really does enhance your reading experience, and the illustrations are brilliant!
One of the things you pick up on really early in this novel, and take an instant liking to, is the narration style – Joyland is told in retrospect, an older Devin recounting his younger days. This style of narration worked extremely well for the story told, and really highlighted the coming-of-age elements of this novel.
King may be best known for his horror novels, but he excels in all genres; some would say Joyland is a horror novel, but I’d argue it has a horror influence rather than sits comfortably in the genre. If you read this one expecting horrors galore, you’ll be disappointed. As mentioned, this novel has a strong coming-of-age element, it is also quite literary in nature, and paints vivid descriptions. King creates a solid setting for this novel, such that you can visualise the events occurring. It’s quite slow paced, but the slower pace works to make this novel an incredibly atmospheric read. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the slangy dialect, the ‘carny talk’, that is so fitting to the amusement park setting.
This novel is built around a murder mystery, so it calls out to crime fiction fans too. And, it is extremely emotionally-driven in places. It’s fair to say this novel crosses genres; the main thing to note, regardless of genre classification, is that this novel is worth your time. It is a showcase of how well King writes, the content he creates, how skilled at his craft he is, how he’ll imprint his story on your heart, and have you invested in the fate of the characters.
Devin, the story’s narrator, is a character you can get behind, he is honest in his narration; as he looks back at his younger self, reminisces about the beautiful friendships he formed, and he is not afraid to call himself on his own bullshit. This realness makes Devin relatable, there’s something so genuine about his character, like he’s such a good guy you want him as a friend.
It was the characters over the mystery that had me invested in this novel, their relationships, their youthful ways and their growth. The atmospheric writing and emotional moments, I really hope to discover more King novels written in this tone that I can only liken to nostalgia, because it creates this yearning feeling while reading, this intense sense of emotion that I just loved. Joyland ranks up there with my favourite King novels, and I absolutely recommend it.