Hard Case Crime, 2013
Student Devin Jones spends a summer working at an amusement park Joyland, located in North Carolina. In 1973, Disneyland has not yet gobble up all the other parks in America and become a monopolist, and organizers expect a steady flow of visitors. In addition to the old-timers are hired temporarily students – to do a dirty work. Devin will have to dance in the heat in a fur dog suit, scrape the vomit with seat rides, pick up trash, control a cart train, and he is ready for it all. Working in the park all day long helps the protagonist to forget his first love, who broke his heart. Description of the park everyday life is mixed with supernatural element: in the horror pavilion once a girl had been murdered. The killer was never found, although the police had even photos of the suspect taken by park workers. And some old-timers say that the ghost of the murdered girl sometimes shows up to children and adults in the horror pavilion.
Stephen King has written a short novel for the publishing house specializing in pulp classics. This novel is short only by King’s standards, it’s only 280 pages, but by the standards of paperbacks of 50s and 60s it’s 100 pages too long. Good two-thirds of the novel is devoted to the everyday life of the park, just in the spirit of King:
«I ride-jockeyed. I flashed the shys in the mornings-meaning I restocked them with prizes-and ran some of them in the afternoons. I untangled Devil Wagons by the dozen, learned how to fry dough without burning my fingers off, and worked on my pitch for the Carolina Spin. I danced and sang with the other greenies on the Wiggle-Waggle Village's Story Stage. Several times Fred Dean sent me to scratch the midway, a true sign of trust because it meant picking up the noon or five PM take from the various concessions. I made runs to Heaven's Bay or Wilmington when some piece of machinery broke down and stayed late on Wednesday nights-usually along with Tom, George Preston, and Ronnie Houston-to lube the Whirly Cups and a vicious, neck-snapping ride called the Zipper . Both of those babies drank oil the way camels drink water when they get to the next oasis. And, of course, I wore the fur.
In spite of all this, I wasn't sleeping for shit.»
With nostalgia in his voice, an elderly narrator recalls this summer in "Joyland", and then a fall, for Devin decided to postpone his admission to college. The abundance of details does not seem excessive, you can feel the era with your skin. In «Author's Note» King writes that «much of what I call" the Talk "doesn't exist» - carnival slang used in the novel was half-invented. But all these greenies, gazoonies, rubes, points, etc are not only organically woven into the text (you never uknow what was invented and what was not), but also will make you laugh. And if King removed the mystery element Joyland would become a normal production coming-of-age novel.
But King did not remove the mystery, though took it to the side, making the novel crooked to one side. Pulp writer would never allow himself to write this book: the thrills here are one on hundred pages, not enough. Only in the last 50 pages King seems to recall, and mystery element breaks through the surface. Though whodunnit here is so-so and puzzle is rough. King, alas, failed with a serial killer plot.
I was confused also with the author’s use of the grammar. Italian «Capisce» suddenly becomes «kapish», and the characters with accents on paper suddenly lose all apostrophes:
«When a guy does that, I notify em that they're foulin the line. The points? Never.» If consider the scene where mentioned the driver who ran down the child to death because he was on the phone while driving (in 1970, it is unlikely that the driver worked at law enforcement agencies), the editor deserves a reprimand.
King has not lost the talent, but there is little joy for the reader in this Joyland.