Stephen King is really trying to prove he’s as much a master of Americana as horror.
A small North Carolina beach town and its resident amusement park is the setting for “Joyland” (Hard Case Crime, $12.95), King’s newest title. Clocking in at just under 300 pages, it seems short for a guy responsible for epics like “The Stand” and “It.” Instead, the novel is a tight and engrossing slice of life starring a college kid trying to get over the pain of first love gone wrong.
It’s 1973, and New England student Devin Jones has gone south for the summer to the town of Heaven’s Bay for a season of “wearing the fur” of an overgrown dog mascot, learning carny-speak, working the “grandma ride” Ferris wheel and other assorted “gimcrackery” at Joyland park.
The boy doesn’t become a man as much as he rediscovers a youthful enthusiasm. He becomes one of Joyland’s top newcomers and a guy appreciated by the big boss and the resident psychic, who’s sometimes a little too prescient for comfort with what she sees in Devin’s future.
Though he makes friends — and local newspaper headlines — it’s a murder mystery involving a haunted ride that surfaces and primarily captures his attention. And it’s a single mom with a few secrets and her wheelchair-ridden little boy with muscular dystrophy who capture his heart.
Thankfully, King doesn’t go the milquetoasty Nicholas Sparks route. His relationships are always grounded and, while maybe not meeting readers’ romantic expectations, are satisfying in how they play out.
There is a ghost story involved, dark tones and a villain with a serial-killing thirst — King does have that rep to uphold, after all.
Yet it’s the coming-of-age storytelling and a young man’s roller-coaster of a summer that make “Joyland” a prize worth all your tokens and skeeball tickets.
Gannett News Service