Although he generally works with big time publishers, author Stephen King released his newest novel Joyland (June 4) through boutique publisher Hard Case Crime, and reading the book, it’s easy to see why. Far from the epic, time-jumping scope of 11/22/63, Joyland is a “boutique” sort of novel––quaint and nostalgic and unapologetically trite, like a knick-knack on your gramma’s mantle.
It’s the summer of 1973. After 21-year-old Devlin Jones is dumped by his girlfriend, he finds a strange solace in his new employment at Joyland, a North Carolina amusement park. After a strange premonition inspires him to stay on through the autumn, he unravels a cold case carnival murder mystery and bags a foxy single mom. And that’s about it. It’s very basic stuff by King standards, but the prolific author expertly employs carnival lingo and a “gather ‘round the campfire fire” tone to keep the pages cranking. At this stage in his career, it’s almost wicked how effortlessly the veteran can roll out a story.
From the opening pages, the first person voice is unmistakably King’s. Relying on old tropes like precognitive tweeners and repeated mantras (“I wore the fur”), he’s the same old cat he’s always been, but with even more ‘70s references. In fact, Joyland may serve as a more interesting novel to those readers familiar with King’s entire body of work, and can compare it to early stuff, like, say Rage (written when King was in his early 20s and now out of print). There’s a vast difference between the manic, angry fervor of King writing as a 21-year-old and the doe-eyed nostalgia he exudes as an old man reflecting on being 21. In more ways than one, King is an author who has come full circle.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Skulls