I’ve enjoyed Stephen King’s books since I was a kid, but I’m the first to recognize his penchant for overwriting. He sometimes delves into a character’s head for several pages when a few paragraphs would do. That’s why Joyland is such a pleasant surprise. It’s an economical thriller that is thoroughly engaging but doesn’t overstay its welcome. It tells the story of Devon Jones, a lovelorn college student coming of age in the early 1970s who takes a summer job at Joyland, a struggling amusement park in North Carolina. This being a King novel, there are plenty of eccentric characters, a restless ghost, and a romance, all of it infused with a bittersweet nostalgia.
Joyland doesn’t break any new narrative ground. It’s marketed as a pulpy murder mystery, but King’s prose is graceful and understated. For a beach read (it’s not available as an e-book), it’s surprisingly thoughtful. I read it in just a few hours, but the story still lingers in my thoughts.