I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about Stephen King around the time of the final Dark Tower books, and he told me “If Stephen King writes one more book with a magical retard, we’re going to have to take his typewriter away from him”. King is a good writer, but he has these obsessions with small children and disabled people with telekinesis that permeate the majority of his works, and Joyland is no exception.
Joyland is a novel about an old man recounting the tale of himself as a young college student from New Hampshire who takes a job at the North Carolina amusement park of the books title to clear his head after a break-up with his high school sweet heart. It was a special time and pivotal moment of his life back in the early 70’s, when life was simpler, but not without it’s harshness. The fictional amusement park is located on the scenic beach of Wilmington, NC and Devin falls in love with the beauty of God’s country and the carny lifestyle almost immediately. He takes a room in a boarding house not far from the beach. Devin’s nights are spent listening to the tides roll in as he lament’s his love lost. Not too long after he stats his tenure, he hears about a murder that took place in the haunted house ride that seems to have been committed by a serial killer who stopped his rampage shortly thereafter. Legends of the girls ghost also intrigue Devin and his new friends. He finds himself intrigued by a cold MILF and her friendly, but disabled, son who Devin sees on the beach every morning on his walk to work.
After the summer season is over, Devin decides to stay on board as a crew member and investigate the murder. He manages to make friends with the MILF Annie, and her son Mike. It turns out Mike is dying, but he doesn’t let that stop him from enjoying life. His mom thinks she has to protect him from over-exertion to keep him around forever. Mike is able to read minds and knows how his mom feels. They butt heads about this frequently, especially since Mike wants to take a visit to Joyland. Devin finds himself playing the dual roles of lover to Annie and referee between the two of them and tries to help Mike by organizing a trip to Joyland. It’s shortly there after that Devin figures out who the killer is, and the killer also figures out that Devin knows. This leads to a heart-breaking showdown at the theme park.
Let me just say that this is a damn good book. King is an expert at drawing emotional reactions out of the reader and his aging protagonist’s thoughts on first love, heart break, death, youth, and aging had me tear up a few times. But then he goes on to have another damn telekinetic kid in a story that doesn’t need such gimmicks. Contrary to popular belief, kids aren’t stupid, and a dying kid with an over-protective mom doesn’t need ESP to surmise her reasoning. King also uses Mike’s powers to help bring about the climax, but that could have just as easily been written around using real world logic. But whatever, he’s a best-selling author and I am not.
King loves to also spout political viewpoints that make no sense in light of reason, but normally he does so in his afterwards. Here he has the old man narrator complain in 2013 about the evil Vice President Dick Cheney, when Dick Cheney hadn’t been vice president in five years. It’s especially hilarious given King’s criticisms of Sarah Palin at the end of Full Dark, No Stars and one has to wonder if he even knows about Joe Biden’s existence at all. Back on track though: King using a character to spout the authors own political beliefs and displeasure with a vice president long since past leaves perceptive readers to believe both narrator and author is coming on with on-set dementia.
Despite these short-comings in the author’s logic, I can’t take away anything from his writing ability. I’m originally from NC and love the beautiful seashores that grace the coast of God’s country. I’m also a sucker for good carnival stories and dark rides. And who doesn’t remember the thrill of the first job or their first heartbreak? King has a knack for writing characters the reader can instantly relate to. There is so much to like here that it overshadows the short-comings of the story. I’m a bit late to the game on Stephen King’s works (there is a huge backlog of his stuff I’m working through) but I haven’t read any of his books that I outright hated, though I still have a bone to pick with the ending of the Dark Tower. Having the main antagonist of the King universe is defeated with a pencil eraser is just a little bit anti-climatic.