Monday, 19 August 2013

To Tell the Truth: A Review of Stephen King's Joyland

For those of you reading this who are old enough to remember the television show To Tell the Truth, you will recall that it presented three people, all of whom claimed to be a particular person. The panelists then had to decide which one of the three was actually that person. At the end of the questioning by the panel, the announcer would say: "Will the
real . . . please stand up?" Sometimes I feel like asking this when I'm reading one of Stephen King's novels: "Will the real Stephen King please stand up?" I'm never quite sure whether I'll be reading a coming-of-age story (The Body;"Hearts in Atlantis); a bona fide ghost/vampire/horror novel ('Salem's Lot; Pet Sematary); a struggling survivors' novel (The Stand; Cell; Under the Dome); a more "realistic" novel dealing with themes of spousal and child abuse (Gerald's Game; Dolores Claiborne); or a hybrid of any of these types. With Stephen King's novels, you're always kept guessing which turn he will take next.

So it is with Joyland, which sounds from the title and its tagline "Who dares enter the Funhouse of Fear?" as if it would be a reprisal of many of King's horror spooks (such as Pennywise the clown) from other novels.  The novel was published under the imprint of Hard Case Crime books and so purports to be crime fiction, which it is, of a sort, as the protagonist Devin Jones tries to solve an old murder case when he takes on a summer job at a carnival. The novel is also a "ghost story", as various persons in the novel (but not the protagonist himself) see the ghost of a woman who was murdered in the House of Horrors at the carnival: one of a series of unsolved murders involving young women. There is also the element of a whodunit as the reader tries to guess the murderer.

But all of these elements are backdrops to a coming-of-age story written in prose that at times is almost lyrical and tells of love lost and found and of a special friendship with a young boy whose body is wasted by disease. King, as he often does, uses the story as social commentary while underscoring the unfairness of life in taking away from us in premature death the best among us. This could be a trite theme, but isn't because of King's ability to create characters with whom his readers can empathize.

So if you were expecting a straightforward crime fiction novel, remember this is Stephen King who is doing the writing...

For an interesting review of the novel by Max Winter in the Los Angeles Review of Books that recognizes King's ability to "foil" genre, please click here.


  1. How about 11/22/53 (Historical) or Eyes of the Dragon (children's book) The man is a genius. I haven't read this one but I enjoyed your review!

    1. Sorry -- that's 11/22/63 (not 53)...

    2. Thanks for your comments, Annette, and for pointing out the other two types of fiction he has written.