It's been forever since I posted a book review and I'm not quite sure why. It's not that I haven't read good books — I have and plenty of them — but every time I finished a book worthy of a review, several days would pass in a flurry of work stuff and the moment passed. It turns out that a review should be written pretty close to finishing whatever you're reviewing.
A variety of circumstances have conspired to give me some extra free time right after reading a good book and not surprisingly, the book that prompted this review is by Stephen King. I seem to recall that I often review his latest book.
Joyland is King's experiment with a fairly straightforward and old-fashioned thriller (cue the cover)
Of course, being Stephen King, there is a teensy bit of the supernatural element. The story is a trip down memory lane, "written" by a man in his 50s about a summer job in 1973 that turned into so much more. Devon Jones — one of the things I admire about Stephen King is his talent for coming up with perfect names for his characters — is 21 years old and recovering from a broken heart. He's doing this in a small town in South Carolina, working for a rickety amusement park by the name of Joyland. He makes friends, nurses his broken heart, learns a lot about being a carny and dips his feet into the mystery of who killed a girl in the haunted house. A girl, it is said, whose ghost still lingers in that dark ride.
And that's it, the story in a nutshell. Except it's a story of so much more. It's about what happens in the months when a boy becomes a man, it's about parental love and the different ways a parent protects a child — sometimes lightly enough to let them fly, sometimes so tight it breaks the bond. It's a book about other forms of love, too, between men and women, boys and girls, between friends and all the different ways that love can be expressed. It's about doing the right thing, even when it's hard or scary. It's about endings and beginnings, and it's about wanting to hold on — to the past, to love and to a little boy named Mike.
Joyland is short by King's standards. Less than 300 pages worth of a perfectly crafted story. It is vintage King in that it takes its time, builds the story and the tension at just the right pace and in such an effective way that you don't realize you've become completely creeped out until it's too late. It sneaks up on you. The story sucked me in completely and it wasn't until a day or two after finishing the book that I realized I wanted to read it again to study how he did it. I also realized that I'd probably get sucked right back into the story and forget to pay attention to the craft.
This review would not be complete without raving about the narrator, Michael Kelly. He is nothing short of brilliant, without being flashy about it. He perfectly captures the hint of gangly awkwardness that still hangs about a 21-year-old male. Kelly pulls a variety of accents out of his hat, from the creak of Brooklyn to the drawl of South Carolina and then gives each character, male and female, so unique a voice that you recognize them without being told who's speaking. He manages to embody the story, while stepping out of the way to let that story take center stage.
Needless to say, I highly recommend Joyland and although I suspect it's a grand read in a regular book form, give the audio version a go. You won't regret it.