Sometimes, I feel like fun is a dirty word. Especially when it comes to entertainment, we’ll put words like “cheap” or “Junk” or “Trash” in front of it. We might dismissively call the art – be it books, movie, tv, music, whatever – low brow, or shrug it off as a summer/beach read. I think we do ourselves a disservice by dismissing fun. I think fun serves an important function – one that makes us human. And so I really dig that with Joyland, Stephen King invites us to not only celebrate having fun, but urges us to share fun with people we love, as well as complete strangers, for whatever time we have left.
Devon Jones is a kid looking for a job in the summer that will help get him through college. He’s an aspiring writer (it is a Stephen King book), and he can’t help but be intrigued when he hears of Joyland – a small time amusement park, looking for summer hires. Joyland is a place that literally sells fun, or amusement. That’s part of employee training. When Devon starts working there, he becomes intrigued with the unsolved mystery of a young woman who was murdered on a ride years ago. It starts to become more of an obsession when one of his friends and co-workers sees the dead girl’s ghost haunting the ride. At the same time, it’s also the story of Devon friendship with Mike Ross, a terminally ill boy, and his more complicated relationship Annie Ross – Mike’s mother, and how Devon manages to heal his broken heart.
Much like the titular amusement park, Joyland the book is essentially an indictment to not waste time, to enjoy life while you can, and have some fun. Life is all too fleeting – whether you’re an average joe, or a soon to be victim of a violent crime, or a kid struggling with a terminal disease, or someone whose job it is to offer smiles by putting on a ridiculous costume. As King writes:
“The last good time always comes. And when you see the darkness creeping toward you, you hold on to what was bright and good. You hold on for dear life.”
A good part of my enjoyment is due to Michael Kelly’s vibrant reading. Kelly perfectly captures King’s Devon Jones with a voice that sounds young, confident, but also vulnerable. It’d be easy to feel like Devon is too whiny or emo about the loss of his first love, but Kelly’s narration completely sells it, with the earnestness of a friend that you hate to see hurting. It’s a delightful performance, and I look forward to hearing more books read by him.
King’s spins a deliciously bittersweet coming of age tale, about finding yourself and trying to do good deeds, packed with ghosts, amusement park rides, desire, and friendship. It may not be a particularly groundbreaking novel, but like Doctor Sleep, I found it very satisfying. It’s a fun story – one that’s worth every cent of the ticket price.
Special thanks to Recorded Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.