Joyland, like Ghost Story, is guilty of taking its merry time delving into the mystery at its core. Early on, we’re told of a young woman who was murdered at the eponymous amusement park, her ghost now haunting the ride on which she met that untimely fate. Given the title, and the Hard Case Crime imprint, it didn’t seem off base to expect this to play a greater role in the story than it did.
Now, if I’d paid closer attention, I would’ve taken the hearts that break up the book as an obvious sign to the contrary. Like with Straub, it was more about the atmosphere than anything else. The “hard case crime” in question was merely a backdrop to the romance that was the real, pun intended, heart of the story.
Were it not being published by Hard Case Crime, I feel he could’ve easily cut out the murder subplot entirely and that the story would’ve benefited from such a change because it feels weighed down by the obligation it has to resolve it. What I’ll remember Joyland for is its romanticism, for friendship, young love, and times gone by.
Moreover, its ending will stick with me in a way that no ending of King’s ever has. Up until it, I had been eyeing a rating of 3, and it alone brought Joylandalmost within reach of that elusive 4. Though I’ve never took issue with how King’s chosen to end his stories, I never knew he had an ending of this caliber in him. Part of me wonders if that part was someone else’s idea, like the fabulously dark ending Frank Darabont thought up for his adaptation of The Mist which King is on the record as liking.
Thanks to that ending, Joyland has left me more optimistic about King’s future as a writer than my rating would likely lead you to believe. The Wind Through the Keyhole, Under the Dome, and Full Dark, No Stars had me thinking King had all but lost the magic he’d hit on just recently with Lisey’s Story through Just After Sunset, probably my favorite grouping of books in his career thus far. But Joyland ended enough on the upswing to give me hope and make me think that 11/22/63 wasn’t as much an anomaly of this latter part of his career as it was a sign that he still has the ability to write something that absolutely spot on.
My expectations for Doctor Sleep aren’t high, admittedly, but after Joyland I’ll at least give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that I’m wrong to think it’ll be a failure. Joyland and The Wind Through the Keyhole may both have received the same rating from me, but here’s to hoping Doctor Sleep leans more towards the former than the latter, because the gap in quality between the two is a lot wider than you’d think.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.