I feel like I should preface this review by saying I’ve never been a huge Stephen King fan. I understand the appeal, and I love a good horror story, but I just couldn’t get into any of his stuff. I was told that even after all of my criticisms of his past work, I should still give Joyland a shot because it was a different kind of King novel. I do agree that this book didn’t scream Stephen King to me. If I had to compare it to any of his other work, I would say it is much closer to Stand by Me than It.
Telling the story of Devin Jones, a recently dumped UNH student looking for summer work, King crafts a coming of age story that has hints of ghosts, loss and coming to terms with the harshness of the real world. Finding work at North Carolina amusement park, Joyland, Devin quickly falls into the fishbowl-like world of carnival life. He quickly learns about a murder that happened at the park years before and he and his new friends become nearly obsessed with solving the crime.
The book was fine. Nothing was original or new in the book, and I felt like King relied on some old techniques that brought him success in earlier work (a wise, older version of our protagonist relating the story for instance). King also found inappropriate places to throw in his political agenda which quickly ripped me out of the story and left me rolling my eyes.
However, even though he uses techniques he’s used before, as I said, this doesn’t feel distinctively King. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t feel distinctive. The book is generic and doesn’t challenge the reader in any way (I don’t consider myself remarkably clever, and I pieced together the identity of the killer about 100 pages before Devin does).
Even though I’m not a fan, I think if King threw in more of his touches and created a more terrifying monster of a killer than the book might have found more solid footing. I do think King employs a nice metaphor for growing up and losing one’s innocence, but this is a theme he perfected with Stand By Me, so why retread?