Book Review–Stephen King’s new novel, Joyland

Joyland cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Tomorrow Stephen King’s newest novel, Joyland, hits the shelves already a pre-release #1 Bestseller.  Come back to Friday, June 7, 2013, for information on how to win copies of an exclusive edition of Joyland or canvas cover prints of the novel’s artwork from Titan Books, publisher of the Hard Case Crime imprint, as part of the Stephen King-Joyland online book tour.

As a fan of many Stephen King movies and TV series based on his books, strangely enough I never made it through a Stephen King novel before now.  Because King’s adapted visual works have been so consistent, I found the easy-going storytelling in Joyland to be very familiar.  Joyland contains themes found in the innocence of Stand By Me (based on King’s novella The Body) and Silver Bullet (based on King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf), the supernatural of The Green Mile (based on King’s serial novel of the same name), and the Northeast U.S. town-life found in the TV series Haven (based on King’s The Colorado Kid) and The Dead Zone (based on King’s novel).  King’s storytelling is very recognizable–you’d know his style anywhere.  And Joyland is not horror, but a blend of true crime-type drama mixed with King’s signature violent/explicit/graphic accounts of not just the crime that is the focus of the story but the life of the protagonist.  Yet it is also a coming of age story for the 20s set–written in a manner similar to classic middle grade and young adult works, like S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Tex, and even some of Judy Blume’s works.

Old Joyland Amusement Park
Old Joyland Amusement Park (King’s is a fictional park)

Devin Jones, college student, recently dumped by his girlfriend and searching to find himself, is smart but a bit green.  King accurately recounts that first job experience where you take an entry-level position but think you know it all, and quickly fumble and discover every job has a learning curve.  For Jones, this job is a summer position at a local amusement park in 1973–Joyland–operated by a myriad of characters, many of which are “carnies from carny, ” which in “the Talk” of the business, means guys that grew up or were born into the carnival business.  It’s a unique world–anyone familiar with the many local amusement parks with names like Riverview and Adventureland that once covered the map before big parks like Disney World knocked most out of business, would not necessarily tie these to the world of carnivals–those annual or seasonal events that bring temporary rides and attractions to your home town.  Yet King bridges that world here and uncovers an intriguing lifestyle.  If you’ve ever worked behind the scenes–“underground” at a place like Disney World–you’ll know that King’s descriptions of Joyland are authentic–describing throwing young people into the fray of running rides on their first day at work to learning the trade, such as winding down operations over the off-season.

Map of King's Joyland

Ever want to feel what it’s like to “wear the fur,” or wear a full mascot costume as a job?  Ever want to know about the crystal ball reader behind the scenes, or how to run a Ferris wheel?  It’s all here.  Yet Joyland is also about a murder.  Told shifting between three different time periods we meet Jones late in life as he recounts this past story much in the way the narrating sister did in King’s Silver Bullet.  Jones’s year with the amusement park brings him in touch with local townspeople, including a boy in a wheelchair that could very well be derived from the main character in Silver Bullet.  We also see Jones at 21, and we revisit in bits and pieces the investigation of a death in the park’s “Funhouse of Fear” years ago.  But don’t expect Joyland to be like the movie Funhouse–it’s no re-hashed axe-to-the-skull slasher flick.  Yes, the original crime is gruesome, but this account is pure detective story, in a similar vein as Otto Preminger’s murder-mystery Laura.  And it’s also a haunting ghost story and supernatural tale.

King’s eye for detail and visual memory are brilliant and nostalgic.  His characters, including Jones, his friends, co-workers and townspeople, feel very genuine, especially the women he encounters, including his landlady, the park’s mystic, a co-worker who takes photographs for the park as a “Hollywood Girl,” and the owner of a large beachside Victorian home.  Joyland recounts not only the feelings of a young man in the world of the early 1970s, but day-to-day life between semesters during college-year summers that will resonate with any generation.

Joyland alternate cover

Fitting the Hard Case Crime theme of the imprint series, Joyland is initially only going to be available in pulp cover design paperback editions by legendary cover artists Robert McGinnis and Glen Orbik.  According to King, “I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts.  That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favorites.  I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being.  Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.”

Last month Tate Taylor was granted the option to adapt the novel and direct the motion picture version of Joyland. 

Joyland is available from local bookstores and online retailers Tuesday, June 5, 2013, including pre-release discount versions today and ongoing discounts versions at

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