Onyx reviews: Joyland by
Whether you're a point or a fump, you don't have to be a hammer-squash any
longer. You can go to the nearest joint and pick up a copy of Joyland.
Paperbacks only—no downloads for this puppy, at least not yet. You can even read
it in the donniker after the blow-off, if you've a mind to.
Don't worry—Joyland doesn't read like this all the way through. These terms are
part of what's known in the biz as "the Talk." Some of it King made
up, some he picked up from an online dictionary of carny lingo. The jargon is
used mostly to demonstrate how the greenies (newbies) are settling into their
summer jobs at Joyland, an independent carnival in the coastal community of
Heaven's Bay, North Carolina.
One of the nearly two hundred greenies during the summer of '73 is the first
person narrator, Devin "Dev" Jones, an all-American clean-cut hero
type. His mother died four years earlier and he has a good relationship with his
father, but he's still finding his way in the world. He's a 21-year-old virgin
with literary aspirations who is suffering from a broken heart, so he runs off
to join the circus for a few months and ends up saving some lives, making
life-long friends, and solving a murder.
Dev has just finished his second year at the University of New Hampshire. He
doesn't realize it yet, but the fact that his girlfriend, Wendy Keegan, takes a
summer job in Boston is the beginning of the end of their relationship. He
should have spotted the signs sooner—after two years they still haven't slept
together. Despondent, confused and hoping that absence really will make Wendy's
heart fonder, he shambles off to Heaven's Bay at the end of the semester.
Joyland is the nostalgic reminiscences of a sixty-year-old cancer survivor who
currently edits an airline magazine. This perspective, along with the book's
tone and sense of wonder, bring to mind The Green Mile. That serial novel was
also a murder mystery, in that the killer of the Detterick twins was revealed by
the end. Joyland also has supernatural elements—a carny psychic with genuine
flashes of precognition, a child who shines, and a ghost.
In retrospect, Dev thinks of 1973 as the end of his childhood. That summer, he
becomes a man—in more ways than one. The version of himself that he recalls is
almost too good to be true, but perhaps we all think of our younger selves that
Thanks to training he received working at the university cafeteria, the first
time he "wears the fur" (a rite of passage that all greenies endure)
he saves a young girl from choking on a hot dog. His quick action and carny
instincts don't go unnoticed. This is before the era of viral video, but the
news spreads quickly all the same and the fairground's owners appreciate the
positive press. Joyland is under constant threat of bankruptcy.
The incident helps build Dev's confidence. Though he's in no mood for a summer
romance—he buries himself in The Lord of the Rings and fends off vague suicidal
ideation—one potential candidate for a new girlfriend is the fetching redhead in
the green dress on the book's cover. She's Erin Cook, one of Joyland's Hollywood
Girls—photographers who take pictures of rubes (excuse me: conies) to sell to
them. However, she's already cozy with another member of their team, Tom
Kennedy, a charismatic and talkative pragmatist. The three become friends, in
part because they live in the same boarding house, operated by the crotchety but
good-natured Emmalina Shoplaw.
The carnival itself is staffed by colorful characters, most of them likable.
They grow to care enough about Dev to pull him aside and remind him to look
after himself during his lowest moments. Many are "carny from carny,"
offspring of former carnival workers. There is one sourpuss that Dev has to deal
with later in the novel, a relationship that, despite its rough patches, pays
Joyland switches gears after most of the greenies return to school. Dev
befriends a sick boy, a relationship that forms the novel's emotional core.
Spending time with young Mike Ross (and his attractive but guarded mother,
Annie) pulls Dev out of his funk and forces him to get over himself. In his
copious spare time, he also puts together a series of clues to solve the murder
of a young woman in Joyland's Horror House four years earlier.
King called The Colorado Kid, his first book with Hard Case Crime,
"bleu" instead of noir. That novel confounded some readers with its
lack of resolution. There are no such issues with Joyland, but it isn't noir,
either. Light grey at best. The mystery is almost incidental. There are red
herrings, clues and a dangerous killer, but Dev is intrigued by Linda Gray's
murder mostly because of rumors that her ghost still haunts the carnival. He's
in no imminent danger—until he starts poking around, that is.
Noir novels typically have a dour and pessimistic world view, whereas Joyland is
full of shiny optimism, despite the occasional melancholy moment. They aren't
generally tear jerkers, either, but it will take a tougher reader than this
reviewer to make it to the end without shedding a few tears.
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