By Stephen King
(Hard Case Crime)
There are a lot of lady-ghosts in this noirish, vaguely supernatural novel—both the spirits of dead women and the lingering presence of those who simply left. New England college student Devin has taken a summer job at a rinky-dink amusement park on the North Carolina coast where the specter of a girl who was murdered in the Horror House many years ago is said still to haunt it—a subject that fascinates Devin and his new friends, leading them on a Scooby Gang-esque investigation into the cold case. Speaking of dead (and “dead-to-me!”) women, there’s also Devin’s mother, as well as the high-school sweetheart who recently dumped him and who haunts him metaphorically, often making him suicidal. He’s narrating the story from decades later, and he still sounds scarred. He’s one lovesick fella; the chapters are even broken-up by little heart icons.
Those chapters meander; they’re a good editor short of adding up to a gripping paranormal whodunit, though they have their moments. (If King can do anything it’s write a climax, phew.) King’s voice is, as always, inviting, a pleasant surface, and that’s the book, really: a pleasurable diversion, less a murder mystery than a textural chronicle of outdated carnydom, a last picture of a profession that, before it went corporate, was rife with colorful slang and even more-colorful characters. (Too many for a short book, in fact.) Like the park’s crew, sworn to showing visitors a good time, King’s mission here is to entertain, though his themes are subversively heavy: he suggests that people will take care of those who’re good, and that the sins of those who aren’t will eventually catch up with them. But he also suggests that death (like a broken heart) is pretty arbitrary and unfair, coming too soon for too many. Joyland pays tribute to those who’ve been unlucky enough to die, and also to those who still have to live.