"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Friday, June 21, 2013

Passing Through 'Joyland'

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is something perfunctory about Joyland. Even the Author's Note feels perfunctory, with Stephen King's preemptive rebuttal of carnival know-it-alls and his hasty show of gratitude for the editor, "Thanks, man." The tropical storm that whips up on the story's climactic evening feels perfunctory. None of this is crappy. I enjoyed Joyland at least as much as my annual, which is to say perfunctory, visits to the county fair.

King takes pleasure in exploring the lingo of carnival employees. Yet the cotton candy quality of the dialect is diluted by the need to provide on the spot translations. Perhaps less translation might have left me disoriented in just the right suspense-inducing way. Instead, like so many other elements of Joyland, I felt myself stuck at arm's length from a landscape that I wished would immerse me.

I enjoyed the layout, which bypassed a conventional chapter setup. Instead, Joyland is divided into discreet sections of narrative with a couple of line breaks and a thematically resonant heart icon. In the age of eBooks, presentation feels increasingly important to me when considering the purchase of hard copies. Glen Orbik's painting on the cover sets a wonderfully pulpy tone--a tone that King's story sometimes falls short of achieving.

I can't put it all on King. Certainly my reading was a bit perfunctory at times. Let's be honest, I suspect a lot of us King fans are just passing time until his sequel to The Shining is released this fall. What is more, I genuinely connected with the 21-year-old protagonist's pining. Oh did I pine over girls back then. And I know what it's like to hang up a phone and realize the gal on the other end has lost any special feelings she ever had for me. What a guy wouldn't give for a good murder mystery to divert him away from that heartache. King absolutely nails this aspect of the plot.

So I took a weekend trip to a little carnival Stephen King threw together. Not the funnest weekend I've had with him. Not by a long shot. Heck, I figured out the killer a good 30 to 50 pages before the reveal. I don't generally accomplish that. Still, King got me to try out an offering from Titan Books' Hard Case Crimes. I probably wouldn't have checked them out otherwise. And now I'd be willing to try them again.

Truth be told, when I pick up a straight-to-paperback yarn like this one, all I am really looking for is a nostalgia fix. I'm hunting for an excuse to revisit that young love and virginal heartache--the kind I felt during a fleeting time of life when a creaky old carnival could mesmerize me. Thanks for a ride on the Ferris wheel, King.

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