Stephen King’s Joyland

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In another departure from his usual genre of horror fiction, Stephen King’s Joyland is a crime thriller with a touch of the ghost story in it. The book was published by in 2013 by Hard Case Crime.

Stephen King has called Joyland one of his own favourites, but don’t expect a typical Stephen King horror here, because this is very different from the usual Stephen King fare.

Joyland was generally well received, although some critics did call it “pulpy, fun, but insubstantial”. 

Other critics, however, said that Joyland is deeper than it pretends to be and is more like a coming of age story, like The Body, and that makes all the more of an intriguing read.




The story of “Joyland” is narrated by a young student, Devin Jones, who is referred to as Dev. In 1973, Dev took up a “summer job” at an amusement park in North Carolina. He wanted to do like Erin and Tom, who were also students at the University. This fun house was known as Joyland, and this is where the name of the book comes from. Dev was also nursing a broken heart at the time he joined Joyland as he had been left high and dry by his girlfriend, Wendy Keegan. 

Rozie Gold, the fortune teller of the amusement park told him that he would be facing danger in the not too distant future, and that he would come across two children that summer. One of them would be a little girl, who would be wearing a red hat, and the other one would be a little boy who would have a dog. The prophecy was strange and was worth dismissing, and this is exactly what Dev did then. Dev ended up saving a couple of employees at Joyland, including Lane Hardy. As a result, the park owner started liking Dev. The other employee Dev had saved, however, died. 

The story becomes more intriguing as Dev fell in love with Annie, who had a young sickly son, Mike. Mike, incidentally, had a dog, and this obviously reminds us of what the fortune teller had mentioned earlier on. 

Dev was intrigued by stories doing rounds that the amusement park was haunted, as sometime in 1968-69, a young girl had been killed. Erin too believed that there was something fishy about the deaths in the park. Dev chose to take a year off and visited the park with Annie’s son. While casually perusing through photographs, Dev realized that the elusive murderer was none other than Lane Hardy.

 Lane too eventually realized that Dev knew the truth, so she threatened that she would harm Mike and Annie. She succeeds in trapping Mike and Dev on the Ferris wheel and was about to kill them, when Annie arrives and shoots her. The story ends with Annie leaving to go to live in another town with her son, and a few months later Mike dies.

Joyland is one of the less voluminous books from Stephen King. It is not exactly the genre you would expect from King because he is known more for paranormal and horror stories.  The storyline is also nothing to write home about. But the deft handling of the subject is what makes the book worth reading. King revives the magic of youth since the story revolves around a teenager.  There is adventure and romance in the story, which make the reader end up getting more engaged in the story and in what will be happening next. The romance included in this book is subtle and not as evident as that generally found in the contemporary era. This underplaying of romance matches with how people tended to be in the 1970s. King has painstakingly recreated that era, so that readers can identify with it and experience a few sublime moments of nostalgia.

King has also focused on creating a bond between the reader and his characters.  In fact the murder mystery has been introduced quite late in the book. Considering that the book is only 288 pages or so in length, King has managed to create sympathies, fears, love, and other normal human emotions, without compromising on the required grip, and pace. It is for this reason that Joyland is worth reading.  There are countless crime related novels, but very few, if at all, that involve people’s emotions to the extent that King has managed. Therefore, the crime does not seem out of place and neither do the characters seem like they have been inserted deliberately to prolong the story.

Towards the end, when the reader is informed of Mike’s death, it serves as a reminder that, perhaps, there is more to the story and as yet, the ghost lives on, creating an expectation that there will be a sequel to this paperback.



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