I once said Stephen King could write the alphabet on toilet paper and I’d probably buy a copy. Joyland pretty much solidifies that harsh sentiment. It proves that he can pretty much write what he wants, and no matter who publishes it or what they try to market it as, it will sell just because the book has his name on it.
I’d probably given this book 4 stars had it not been published by Hard Case Crime, a small company that prides itself on publishing hard boiled pulp crime thrillers with scantily clad women on their covers and Dick Tracey looking detectives with gray coats, smoking cigs, and hand guns often cozying up to them. Think back to your daddy’s 70s porn mags he hid at the bottom of the wicker basket next to the toilet and you’ve got a winner.
After you’ve read Joyland, take a hard look at the book cover again and you’ll definitely roll your eyes. The scene on the front has nothing to do with King’s story. The red head pictured is a minor character, but hey, sex sells, right? Wanna see an even worse cover? Go to Hard Case Crime’s website and check out the limited edition hard cover (pictured to the right)! YIKES! HCC is obviously trying to make the book fit into their repertoire, but this book definitely won’t appeal to their long-time aging fans who dog ear the pages until their next bowel movement.
It is no where near being pulp but the story itself is definitely a winner. It really belongs in another one of King’s 4 piece anthologies, like Four Past Midnight or something. It has the coming-of-age appeal of The Body (Stand By Me for you moviegoers), which was in the anthology Different Seasons.
The story is about a college kid named Devin who goes to work for an amusement park one summer. The now aging narrator reminisces on how he got his heart broke, chose to skip college and stay on at the park, lost his virginity, saved a little girl’s life, and captured the hearts of both kids and adults when he had to dress up as the park’s mascot. Sound familiar? Eh, it’s nothing you haven’t read before and nothing that King hasn’t already done…and better! King once advised aspiring writers to “kill their darlings.” It’s about time he listened to his own advice!
But oh yeah, throw in a female ghost that got killed in the park and haunts one of the rides and a sick kid who is a psychic and can read minds and see ghosts. Devin befriends the boy and finds himself trying to solve the ghost girl’s murder, but both of those are minor plot points that don’t really matter until you are well over half way done with the book! And both of those plot lines have boring and predictable outcomes. I guessed who the killer was well before that, and was right.
Was this King’s best? Ahem…No! Was it his worst? Definitely not. Chances are he published it by itself to give ode to HCC, a publisher that focuses on a genre King has a lot of respect for. And it’s a lucrative step in giving the Ebook industry a snub (this book is not available in Ebook format so readers have to buy a hard copy if they want to read it). He’d never do that though with a larger more serious tome (Dr. Sleep is due out in September!). I’m glad I read it though and yes, I’ll read the next toilet-time book he writes, whether it is written on TP or not!