Off the Shelf: JOYLAND


Stephen King’s new novel, Joyland, is a sweet dive into nostalgia, into a Southern soap opera with a mystery, a ghost, and a lot of heartache.

Joyland is the coming-of-age story of Devin Jones, a college kid whose girlfriend breaks up with him, and he decides to spend the summer of 1973 working at a beachside North Carolina amusement park.  We had a couple of those here in Virginia –Buckroe Beach Amusement Park in Hampton, and Ocean View Amusement Park in Norfolk — and I remember well the crowds, the wooden roller coasters, the taste of french fries and malt vinegar, the funhouses and the Tunnel of Love, and all the laughter.

They’re gone now.  Ocean View, in its last days, was the star of its own 1979 tv movie, The Death of Ocean View Park (here), and a supporting player in 1977’s Rollercoaster.

Joyland is Stephen King’s beachside funhouse, and here Devin learns what you can’t learn in school or in college.  He learns how to dance like a kid and love like a man; he learns the wonder and pain of friendship; and he learns about the holes in your heart that are left by the deaths of loved ones.

Of late, King’s fiction seems muted and quiet.  His writing no longer has the primal impact, nor the hard-edged, horrific events, of his earlier novels, such as ‘Salems’ Lot, Carrie, The Shining and The Stand.   This may or may not be a result of his brush with death a few years back; I suspect it’s a combination of that and the fact that he’s goten older, and more thoughtful, and movie-like action is less important to him than the weight of characters and their own, individual actions.

No problem here.

Joyland is most definitely a quiet novel, but don’t mistake it for something minor.  This is a small treasure — a box of wonders filled with insight on the pain of loss, and the day-to-day things we do to cope with life, and to grow.  This is a return to the Stephen King who wrote The Body (Stand By Me, if you only saw the movie), Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile.

This novel isn’t a roller coaster.  It’s a Tunnel of Mystery . . . and love, and sorrow.   It’s a side of King we rarely see, and I think we need to see more like it.

Get it here.

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