Tracing The Trails : Joyland
Just looking at this cover should be enough to place it in the same family tree as The Colorado Kid. They were both published by the same imprint and the artwork for both has a similar feel, giving me an expectation of a kind of dark, gritty noir story. It reminds me of classic pulp book covers so naturally, this is what I end up expecting as a reader.
And as with Colorado Kid, I found this book to be completely unlike what I had been expecting. As it started, I thought I had a sense of what I was in for but I was wrong.
Fortunately, this is where the experience went down separate paths. I think that The Colorado Kid failed for me because I didn’t feel invested in the story or the characters. It just came off as a fairly mundane recitation of the mechanics of a story.
And with Joyland, I can definitely see points where critics might be inclined to take King to task. For much of the book, I don’t think I could have comfortably stated what it was about. There were some good creepy moments throughout but while the story seemed to hint at a paranormal direction that was impending, the shift never seemed to happen. I realized at some point that I was over halfway through the book and still had no idea where things were going.
This is not generally a good thing.
Still, despite the lack of narrative movement until the end of the book, I still found myself enjoying it, often forgetting the fact that not much was really happening and instead being lost in the narrative and the story of, essentially, one young man’s summer vacation.
I related to Devin and I thought King did a really good job capturing the drama and awkward energy of those pre-sexual experience years, when you are trying to discover as well as understand the world around you.
I think that carnivals make for superb atmosphere for spooky story telling because they naturally bring a sense of dark history and seedy beginnings. You get the sense that by taking this summer job, Devin is submerging himself into the murky waters of a sub-culture that he can’t truly understand.
In many ways, the style of storytelling here reminded me of King’s novella, Low Men In Yellow Coats in that there are some supernatural elements to the plot but the story that takes place within that is also moving and heartfelt on its own. It also made me think of Robert McCammon’s book Boy’s Life in that the specifics of the Joyland mystery took a definite backseat to the coming of age story that was taking place.
The history of Joyland was also a breeding ground for great storytelling, although I think King didn’t quite utilize this as well as he could have. A murder has taken place at the park in its past, a murder that was never fully explained or understood. And while the story rarely does more than flirt in the direction of this issue, I thought it carried enough of a lingering presence in order to help aid the mood of the story.
Regarding the atmosphere, I also appreciated that the book was so heavily steeped in that of the seventies and eighties. Part of me couldn’t help but wonder if King’s stronger talents come through more clearly, setting books during these time periods. I remember well enough the era before the digital age so reading this book was a lot like getting the chance to go back and visit an old friend.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, one for which I had honestly low expectations. Books always have the ability to surprise you, though. It’s important to keep that point in mind and this book is a great reminder. Of all King’s recent books, Joyland is one that I am more likely to come back to.
To conclude, I have to relate a story around this that I found entertaining. When King first published this, it was only in print edition. There was however another book titled Joyland, by Emily Shultz. Needless to say, a ton of people flocked onto Amazon and purchased Ms. Shultz’s book for their Kindle, thinking it was Stephen King. Let’s just say that Ms. Shultz’s rankings and bank account both saw dramatic upswings. You can look it up on Google but Ms. Shultz set up a blog detailing how she was spending Stephen King’s money. It’s pretty great.
And to those who might react by saying, “how dare that person take money she didn’t earn!”.
First of all, the listing for the book clearly shows her as the author. The cover is completely different and people have the ability to return kindle books within seven days. Plenty of time to correct an errant purchase. And she actually did try to reach out to Amazon to get them to redirect King’s fans to the proper book. Her requests were ignored. Also, she was there first. Her book was published years before King. And Stephen King himself gave her his support. So don’t harpoon her because people can’t pay attention to what they’re buying.
None of this is relevant to the book itself but I think it’s an interesting historical note. Also, if you do decide to check out this book, make sure it’s the right one.