For me, a visit to any place created by Stephen King is a visit to Joyland. So, how good a title is Joyland then?
Joyland is set in the late 1960s or early 70s and is told by Devin Jones, as an older man looking back at the summer he had his heart broken by his college sweetheart Wendy. (In my opinion, she was no good anyway. Devin is a sweetie, and did much better eventually than the horrible Wendy).
Working his way through college, just as people used to do, (sorry, couldn’t resist!), Devin had a summer job at Joyland, which as the name suggests, was a fun park, with hot dogs, ferris wheels, roller coasters, fortune telling and Howie the Happy Hound, Joyland’s doggie mascot. Working at Joyland, Devin learned carny language, (like ‘carny’), made friends for life with his fellow college-student co-workers and saved a few lives. Intriguingly, Devin also learned about the murder of a young woman, whose throat was cut inside the Horror House, several years before Devin’s summer at Joyland.
While this book is a crime story, it wouldn’t be a Stephen King story without a few touches of the supernatural. Several characters have the gift of ‘the sight’ and a surprising amount of characters were able to see the ghost of the woman who was murdered in the Horror House. (What I want to know is, how come nobody ever writes ghost stories set in hospitals? Surely there must be more ghosts hanging around hospitals than anywhere else. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, kitchen staff, visitors, not to even mention patients; they should all be terrified. But for some reason, nobody ever talks about seeing ghosts in hospital).
Anyway, despite his broken heart, Devin became interested in the mystery of the murdered woman and started investigating her death. He very cleverly figured it all out, before the book raced to an exciting conclusion.
As the narrator, Devin is quite a nostalgic type. His insights, which came at the end of each chapter or section, eventually became irritating. For example, after reflecting on the end of his relationship with that no-good Wendy, he tells the reader, “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction,” and “Love leaves scars,” and “You have to remember, I was only twenty-one.” Etc. nd so on. And again. His insights were smart enough, but I got sick of them. Just like most heart-broken teenagers, Devin became boring and self-absorbed, although I’m sure he grew out of it. (All right, all right. I can remember crying over someone whose name I can’t remember. I was fourteen. He was ‘The One.’ Or the one after was, I forget now).
However, as a crime story, I actually forgot about trying to solve the mystery of the woman’s murder as I was more interested in the stories about the amusement park. (An evening visit to the beach carnival was the highlight of my summer growing up, a few hours of giggling with my friends, being slammed around on the Thunder-Bolt and riding the Dodgem Cars, checking out the cute boys who ran the rides and stuffing ourselves with fairy floss. Pure joy. That’s probably where I fell in love with ‘The One.’ I know I went on the Cha-Cha with him).
As a mystery, I figured out who-did-it without too much trouble. Stephen King gives you a few clues, but he also leads you astray here and there, and of course throws in enough of the paranormal to make the reader uneasy.
Just don’t go in the Horror House.