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Stop Making Sense

I read anything that's nailed down, or even just moving slowly. Cereal boxes, candy wrappers, all genres, etc., and I don't always have much time for arbitrary distinctions like literary fiction vs. genre fiction.

Not the Pulp Story Shown on the Cover

Joyland - Stephen King

This is an odd one. The cover makes you think you're going to be reading a pulp, Chandleresque caper from the 1930s, complete with tagline "Who Dares Enter the FUNHOUSE OF FEAR?" But the writing and story are much more reminiscent of The Dead Zone--a nostalgic, bittersweet coming-of-age story set in the 1970s. I also don't see it as a horror story at all, despite what the back cover says--the closest it comes is including a bit of magical realism.

On a whim, jilted college student Devin Jones signs up to work at a North Carolina beach amusement park for the summer. Once there, he becomes immersed in the world of the carny: the attitude, the language, the comraderie, the culture. I think this is where King shines most in this novel--painting the picture of life in a pre-Disney, "non-corporate" amusement park. Wonderful.

Along the way, he a) makes friends with a single mom and her frail son who live down the beach from the park, and b) finds out about a 4-year-old murder that took place in the park's Horror House, which is now "haunted" by the victim's ghost. Devon and his friends become a little obsessed with uncovering the truth, which of course, leads to a dangerous climax that involves everyone.

A main strength of this book is that it's not a typical late-career King doorstop--it's a return to the simpler times of The Dead Zone and Cujo. The language is appropriate for a 61-year-old narrator telling a story of his 21-year-old self--accessible, wry, a little bitter in places, a little wise in others. King hasn't forgotten how to tell a story and to give you characters to root for, and I'm glad.

The story is a little thin in places, and the denouement relies *heavily* on Deus ex magica. But it's still a fun ride, a bit of literary cotton candy.