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King delivers soul with “Joyland”

It may be unorthodox to begin a book review like you would end it but Joyland is the best Stephen King tale I’ve read since “Riding the Bullet” from the collection Everything’s Eventual (although 11/22/63 was critically acclaimed, I found the story boring).

The cover for "Joyland" is a throwback to the 1960s era of pulp fiction paperbacks.

The cover for the 283-page “Joyland” is a throwback to the 1960s era of pulp fiction paperbacks.

Joyland recounts the summer and fall of 1973 from the mind of the character Devin Jones, who was a student at the University of New Hampshire at the time who took a summer job at the completion of his junior year at a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland in the fictitious coastal town of Heaven’s Bay. For Dev, Joyland not only allowed him to overcome the heartbreak of breaking up with Wendy Keegan, but it also helped him understand that life has meaning.

Published exclusively as a paperback as part of the Hard Case Crime imprint (King’s second in the line after the 2005 publication of The Colorado Kid) a subsidiary of London based Titan Books, King wrote a coming of age story first and foremost then dropped a murder mystery into the fold like only he can. The crime: a young woman was fatally stabbed and her body left inside Joyland’s Horror House where that woman’s, Linda Gray, spirit haunted for years.

Gray’s ghost would eventually be exorcised by Mike Ross, a 10-year-old boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who would also help exorcise the ghost of Gray’s killer, someone who worked right under their noses.

Admittedly, I have a more deeper affection for Joyland, which touches close to home with me (almost literally). The area of North Carolina described by Dev — King — in the book is near where I call home in southeastern N.C. Heaven’s Bay was a bus ride away from Wilmington, which is 40 minutes from my hometown of Whiteville. Other locales mentioned in the book, (Lumberton, Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Maxton) are all within an hour radius from my roots. It was great to read how King fictionalized a locale I’m familiar with, even prompting me to tweet this out:

Joyland is the quintessential King novel, touching the essence of the human spirit making it an instant classic.

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Following is an excerpt from Joyland:

I held out the Jesus kite with the back to her. There, as per Mike’s instructions, I had taped a small pocket, big enough to hold maybe half a cup of fine gray ash. I held it open while Annie tipped the urn. When the pocket was full, she planted the urn in the sand between her feet and held out her hands. I gave her the reel of twine and turned toward Joyland, where the Carolina Spin dominated the horizon.

I’m flying, he’d said that day, lifting his arms over his head. No braces to hold him down then, and none now. I believe Mike was a lot wiser than his Christ-minded grandfather. Wiser than all of us, maybe. Was there ever a crippled kid who didn’t want to fly, just once?

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