Back in the summer of 2013, I had the pleasure of reading Joyland, a new book (at the time) by Stephen King. It was unexpected just how much I would end up liking this book, hailing it as one of King’s best and one of the best books I had read all summer. It’s a coming age story that also focuses on a years old murder mystery. But it’s greatest strength is that it beautifully captures the feel of a young, longing summer. This past fall, Joyland was re-released as an illustrated hardcover through Hard Case Crime with new book jacket artwork and more than 20 chapter illustrations from artists Mark Summers, Pat Kinsella and Robert McGinnes. I jumped at the chance to check out this new edition.
For those of you that never got a chance to read the book the first time, here’s an excerpt from my original review:
It’s 1973 when we meet up with young Devin Jones. He’s recently taken a job at Joyland to make some cash for school over the summer. He misses his girlfriend but is excited to try something different. Over the course of the summer he, and his new friends Tom and Erin, two of the other summer hires for the park, have a blast working shit jobs at this overgrown carnival and learn all about the world of Carny and their unique way of doing things. They also find out about the ghost of Linda Gray. Linda was an customer at the park a number of years previous who was visciously murdered while riding through the Funhouse. Her killer was never found and it’s believed that she still haunts the ride where she met her demise. This story becomes a bit of an obsession for Dev and stays with him all summer long. After losing his girl back home, saving a life and dancing in a Dogsuit (not particularly in that order) the summer creeps into fall for Jonsey and he feels that Heaven’s Bay isn’t quite done with him yet. So he stays on at Joyland to help get it ready for winter. It’s during this time that he meets Annie Ross and her son Mike, a dying child with some very special gifts. Through them, he figures out a lot about himself. But that’s not all he’s determined to figure out as he sets his sights on solving the murder of Linda Gray and bringing the killer to justice.
To say anything more about the plot would be a crime (see what I did there?). The truth of the matter is that this book is not so much about crime as it is about coming of age, one of the many common themes from King’s work that pops up in this novel. A supernatural element and the gift of psychic intuition, a main character from New Hampshire who’s also a writer providing first person narration looking back on his youth, and a strained relationship between one of the characters and their father. All are present. But these are just King’s signatures and are there to enhance the characters and plot, both of which are strong throughout.
What I found interesting is that the book is almost like 2 separate stories which are tied together by the Linda Gray Murder. For the summer months, the story is a typical coming of age plot as Dev has his first job in a “strange land”. He gains friends and figures out that the plans he has laid before him might not be the path he wants to take. Then we reach the fall months when Dev decides to stay on at Joyland for the pack-up of the park. We’re introduced to new and important characters in Mike and Annie Ross and the Linda Gray murder investigation goes from being a plot point in the background to one of the driving forces to the latter half of the story. It’s this half where things get a little darker. Dev is interested in finding the killer but also exploring his new found friendship with Mike and his mother. This also takes a darker path as Mike is very ill and his health becomes a focal point as well.
The result is a very layered story. There’s an element of the supernatural as there’s more to both Mike and the memory of Linda Gray. There’s a detective story element that ramps up as the story comes to its conclusion. But on top of all that, we have 3 very “real”characters dealing with serious issues like child mortality and family reconciliation. All of these elements compliment each other perfectly. The mystery and thriller aspect keep the emotional moments in check. The emotional moments ground the fantastical parts of the story in reality. At no point do you feel that the story has made a wrong turn. All of these carefully crafted plot points work together as a well oiled machine. There’s intrigue, there’s shock, and there’s even a few laughs along the way.
While I am very excited that a new printing of this book is now available in hardcover, I can’t say that the illustrations bring much to my enjoyment of it. The new cover by Glen Orbik is fantastic but feels a bit out of place with the story that’s found inside of it. The back cover drawing by Susan Hunt Yule does a great job of laying out the park. They’re both eye catching and work well enough with the book that I would be happy with them being the only update. However, the chapter illustrations leave much to be desired. While none of them are terrible, the inclusion of 3 different artists’ perceptions of the book makes the visual storytelling feel choppy. There is no visual narrative as where one drawing is very stylized, the next feels almost cartoon-ish. While these drawings don’t really take anything away from the book, they do feel frivolous and add nothing to the experience. But as I said, the book is still strong enough on its own that these drawings don’t diminish the quality of storytelling.
If you missed out on Joyland the first go round, I strongly suggest you pick up the Illustrated Edition of the book, if noting else but to get a chance to read this instant King classic. If you already got the paperback edition back in 2013, you’re not missing out on anything here. This book also makes a great Christmas gift for the reader in your life. You can get a copy of Joyland: The Illustrated Edition through Hard Case Crime or wherever books are sold.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!