After a lifetime of hating Stephen King—not that I ever gave him much of a chance—I picked up Joyland chiefly because I thought the cover illustration by Glenn Orbik (above) was hot. It showed a scene that was not even in the book: a red-headed Erin Cook (a co-worker of the book’s hero) screaming in fear while casually wielding a Speed Graphic camera which, if she had ever made a regular practice of doing so, would have left her with a forearm like Popeye’s.
So, what did I think? Actually, I liked the book. Partly because I am drawn to the whole carny world after reading William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley, and partly because I thought King exercised admirable restraint in crafting the novel. I wasn’t quite sure about the action scenes at the end, and there were a couple of connections I never quite understood, but I liked the tone of the whole thing.
Devin Jones is a twenty-one-year-old college student who spends a summer working for a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. He is a man who has been discarded by his apathetic girlfriend Wendy, who, once she parts from him, consigns him to oblivion posthaste. He likes the carny lifestyle, makes friends easily, discovers he has a talent for entertaining “zamps” (small children), and doesn’t object to some of the less desirable tasks around the midway.
He is drawn by the mystery of a young woman named Linda Gray who had been killed by an unknown assailant in the scary funhouse. In fact, he drops out of college and hangs on into the fall, when the only work is preparing the park for the next summer. During that time, he makes the acquaintance of a young mother with a severely disabled son—one who can foretell the future. You can bet this figures in the plot. Devin finally loses his virginity—to Annie Ross, the mother—and becomes a favorite of her son.
Finally, it all comes together for Devin. The killer is … someone Devin knows who calls him at home minutes after his discovery and lures him to the park, where King suddenly goes into overt mode. Perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t liked King all these years is that I thought he was too overt and not sufficiently psychological. But Joyland strikes a nice balance.
Also, I loved all the carny slang, which King took from this website. Maybe, I’ll read some more King: I always liked Kubrick’s film version of The Shining. Perhaps I’ll read that, or Dolores Claiborne, as suggested by my friend Lynette.