Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review: Joyland by Steven King

Joyland, the Illustrated Edition

Published by Titan Books
Copyright © by Stephen King

Print Length: 300 pages
ISBN: 978-1-78329-532-6

The story is set in 1973, as our hero completes his college semester and takes off for the summer.  He's more than a little distraught by his relationship with his girlfriend.  She won't come across (he's still a virgin) and she's obviously using him as a doormat.  He hits the road to South Carolina and a summer job at a somewhat run down amusement park.  While working at the amusement park, our hero encounters any number of colorful characters and falls into a few amusing situations, resulting in a climax that has the feel of a writing exercise rather than an actual finish.

King's real strength is characterization, and it shows really well in Joyland.  Characters are drawn strongly with a minimum of extraneous verbiage.  For the most part, they stay in character.  Scenes are drawn with just enough detail to keep things clear.  There's never any question about what's going on.

The story breaks down when King tries to use the carny vernacular, something that I have a little familiarity with.  In short, he uses Dictionary of Carny, Circus, Sideshow & Vaudeville Lingo by Wayne N. Keyser as a reference, then makes up his own terms, which doesn't work well.  It doesn't detract from the story all that much, but it's an irritant to anyone who knows better.  Likewise, the author is not an expert on firearms, despite the claim that he owns handguns with a clear conscience.  His writing doesn't show any expertise at all, although he doesn't commit any glaring mistakes, there's a lot of verbal fumbling around whenever a firearm appears.

King writes about the supernatural (like saying Einstein wrote about math), but in this case he could have easily left out the supernatural aspects and just written a straight crime thriller.  It seems like he's trying to live up to his own image by adding a supernatural aspect, and in fact he doesn't handle that segment particularly well.

My other complaint is that our hero, despite being heroic, doesn't initiate any action on his own.  He's either reacting to someone else, or he's tied to a pickup truck and dragged around the block a few times.  He lacks motivation, and about halfway through the book I started asking myself just why our hero would behave this way, when clearly he has every reason not to.  Still, the rest of the characters are solid, so maybe I can overlook this.

I haven't read much Stephen King lately.  I'll see one of his books at the brick and mortar store, read a few pages and end up passing it by.  It just doesn't hold my interest.  I managed to finish Joyland because it's only 300 pages, and it's sufficiently interesting to keep me going just to see how it ends.

I'll give it two and a half stars out of five, mainly because the characterization is good.

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