Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.
This week’s featured title is Joyland by Stephen King:
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Hard Case Crime; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
- ISBN-10: 1781162646
- Source: Personal copy
Devin Jones is a college student who recently had his heart broken. Attempting to escape his routine everyday life he applies for a job at Joyland, a little theme park that has avoided the commercialism of bigger parks like Disney. He quickly picks up on the theme park way of life and becomes a jack-of-all trades, one minute running rides, the next donning “the fur” of the park’s mascot.
He isn’t at the park long before he hears rumors it is haunted by a young girl who was killed while in Joyland’s Horror House, her boyfriend slitting her throat and disposing of her body before the ride ended. Staff and guests alike have reportedly seen her ghost. Devin, having worked the theme park for a little while now, wonders why he hasn’t seen her. Trying to get his mind off his lost love, Devin quickly becomes obsessed with learning more about her death, soon revealing that she was just one of many killed by this brutal serial killer.
Fans expecting Joyland to be classic King horror will be disappointed to learn that it is not; it is much more. Instead, it combines a multitude of genres, including thriller, supernatural with a touch of horror. It’s a coming of age story set in the 1970s our country was going through a host of really difficult things, including the war in Vietnam and the rise of sexual freedom and feminism. King, as he is known to do, brilliantly showcases and studies what is going on in the world by using this young man, this theme park, and a series of killings as vehicles of his message.
The characters King devises are rich and colorful, much like Joyland itself. King mixes loners who have devoted their lives to working the theme park with a young mother and her dying son who has a special power. Only in a King novel will these things flow together so naturally and without flaws.
The best thing about this novel? While it isn’t the horror-filled King that many of us have grown to love, the fact that this level of terror is missing allows a whole new audience of readers, perhaps too turned off by horror, to embrace and discover King’s writing. Reminiscent of King’s Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, Joyland demonstrates once again just how gifted King is when it comes to crafting a truly brilliant and moving novel. Highly, highly recommended.