A few weekends back, I went on a 10-ish hour trip to hang out with some of my grade and high school buddies near Hocking Hills, Ohio. I knew I’d need some fast paced, engrossing audiobooks to listen to while I made the solo trip. When perusing that section at the library, I immediately headed to the Ks and found myself a pair of Stephen King books: Joyland and Revival. I grabbed the former because I have a hard copy in my to-read box and the latter because, well, it looked like it would get me through the rest of my trip there and all the way back.
Going into Joyland, I knew that it was about a kid working at a low-level amusement park in the 70s where he stumbles upon some kind of murder mystery. To get into a bit more detail, our main character is Devin Jones, a college student who decides to go from New England to North Carolina to work at the title location during the summer of 1973. While there he meets two lifelong friends, saves a few lives, gets swept up in the carnie lifestyle, befriends a woman and her sick son and tries to figure out who killed a young woman on the park’s only dark ride a few years back.
Without beating around the bush too much, I loved this listening experience and think I would have equally enjoyed actually reading the book. Devin’s an easy character to love. Not only is he a nice young guy who actually enjoys putting on a hot-as-hell dog suit and dancing for kids, but he’s trying to get over his first love while doing so.
I got so wrapped up in the colorful characters inhabiting Joyland that anything supernatural or murder-y kind of fell to the wayside (for a while at least). You’ve got the park’s owner, the manager, the picture-taking Hollywood Girls, the fortune teller, the ride jockey and all manner of other people who come from the carnie lifestyle, good and bad. Speaking of the carnies, the book is packed with carnie-speak, which I probably would have absorbed a bit better had I read it than heard it, but I did okay keeping up.
And then there’s Annie and Mike, the mother-son duo who live at the big house Devin passes on his way to and from work. She’s practically obsessed with keeping him safe and comfortable because he has a medical condition that will most likely kill him in the near future. Devin starts off as a stranger in their lives, but eventually becomes an integral part of both and vice versa.
I won’t get into too many more details about the story itself, but I will say that I loved how everything wound up coming together and making sense. It’s not nearly as dark or horror-filled as some of King’s other stories, but it works so well because it’s about character first and then goes into those darker places from there. In the end, I figured out the killer ahead of time, but not too far. You’re not really privy to all the information like the characters are (photos play a large part in Devin figuring out the killer’s identity), but there’s still enough there for you to get it (or at least narrow it down) before the cards are all on the table which made it a great thing to listen to for the car ride!
Finally, and I know book readers aren’t supposed to care about this as much, but I would love to see this story brought to the big screen. The setting and characters jumped off the page (or rather, out of the speakers) to the point where I wanted to see them translated by a quality director. As far as I know, though, it’s not currently in the works which makes it, what, the only King book or short story that’s not?