In the grand scheme of the King ouvre, Joyland is a throwaway. It’s more a novella than a novel, almost a campfire story. It occupies a limited universe, for the most part a single point in time, and lacks even one Maine resident, or rip in the space-time continuum (though there is a psychic kid). The book is short and sweet, and its supernatural elements are understated, almost to a fault. Joyland is the kind of novel I imagine King dreams up at a red light, or on a long elevator ride. “So…what if there was a carny legend about a haunted funhouse…” and then the signal goes green and he drives off. Bam. Novel.
And essentially, that’s what the book is about. Told in flashback by narrator/protagonist Devin Jones—now in his 60s—Joyland is the story of a summer and fall Dev spent working at Joyland, a seaside amusement park in North Carolina. While there, Dev makes friends, mourns a breakup and learns what it means to “wear the fur” on a 100-degree day in August. But throughout his time at Joyland, Dev is also haunted by the story of a girl who was murdered in the Horror House by her boyfriend. Carny lore is that her ghost still appears there to this day.
So Joyland isn’t epic, or even particularly memorable. But this is the thing about Stephen King. Even his red-light/elevator-ride novels are good. Not like Under the Dome good (let alone Shawshank good, or—I’m told—The Stand good) but still enjoyable, absorbing, capable of distracting one from everyday life.