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Literature / Joyland

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Released in June 2013, Joyland is Stephen King's second novel for the Hard Case Crime imprint, following The Colorado Kid (2005). The novel is primarily a murder mystery/thriller, but considering who the author is, it should come as no surprise that there are significant supernatural elements involved, too.

The novel is set in the summer and autumn of 1973 and follows Devin Jones, a twenty-one-year-old college student from New England who takes an extended summer job in a North Carolina amusement park (the Joyland of the title) after his first girlfriend breaks up with him, leaving him heartbroken. As Dev begins to make friends and learn about the carny way of life, he also becomes fascinated with an unsolved murder which took place in the park four years earlier, and the House of Horrors which is reputedly haunted by the victim's ghost.

Joyland provides examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: Dev maintains he is one, which is probably true.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Dev, at the climax of the novel.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: Subverted, all things considered. Even with the legacy of the murder hanging over it, Joyland is for the most part a happy and well-intentioned place and the ghost that haunts the funhouse isn't malicious or deadly but just wants to 'move on'.
  • Big Bad: Lane Hardy aka The Carny Killer, the amusement park employee Devin befriended who is actually the serial killer that has unintentionally trapped the ghost of Linda Gray in the amusement park ride. He believes Devin has figured out he was the killer and has been looking to confront him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Linda Gray's spirit is laid to rest and her murderer is finally discovered, but Mike eventually succumbs to his illness and dies. Oh, and Joyland ends up bankrupt two years after the events of the story.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Carny Killer flat out refuses to believe that Dev didn't figure out his identity until the very night the killer decided to confront him, since he knew Dev had been doing his own research for a while now.
  • Coming of Age Story: As well as being a mystery/thriller with supernatural undertones, the novel is very much this for Devin.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The Carny Killer takes Dev for a midnight ride on the rickety Ferris Wheel while a hurricane blows in.
  • Cool Old Lady: Rozzie Gold and Mrs Shoplaw.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Annie's exceptional marksmanship — including the fact that she won numerous shooting trophies at summer camp in her teens, her hunting trips with her father, and her success at the Joyland shooting gallery despite not having practiced for years — become very important when Dev ends up Alone with the Psycho.
  • Distant Finale: While narrating the story in 2013, Dev occasionally has cause to explain what's happened to him, Tom and Erin, and a few of the other characters in the intervening forty years.
  • Facial Horror: In a vein very similar to what was once caused by a toaster in The Langoliers, Annie shoots the Carny Killer with a hunting rifle at the book's climax and just about vaporizes his face, palette, and upper jaw. As one might imagine, King's description of the resulting carnage ranks the perp's death among the highest in his mythos as far as the gruesome factor goes.
  • Fake Russian: In-universe, Rozzie Gold when she's in character as Madame Fortuna.
  • First Love: Wendy is Dev's. It seems like The First Cut Is the Deepest, too: despite romances with Annie and a classmate named Jennifer, Dev reveals in the Distant Finale that - despite being a hopeless romantic for whom marriage was a big priority - it took him ten years to settle down after Wendy broke up with him. Even into his sixties, he's still a little bitter about their break-up.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since the story is narrated by Dev himself years after the facts, you already know from the start that he will be fine.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Played with - Annie actively tried to be a good Preacher's Kid as a teenager despite her lack of faith, but rebelled once she entered college as a young adult.
  • Freudian Excuse: Dev's theory is that the Carny Killer murders his dates because he's unable to perform sexually. A theory he expresses to the killer's face, while they are alone together and the killer very much has the upper hand. Annie arrives and shoots the guy before he makes any comment, so it remains speculation.
  • Genius Bonus: One of Dev's favorite songs is "Cars Hiss By My Window" by The Doors, which starts "The cars hiss by my window/like the waves down on the beach (2x)/I got this girl beside me, but she's out of reach". Two out of three lines are an apt description of Dev's situation. He does seem to have some interest in Erin, and although her being out of reach is not a major plot point, she says that, if it weren't for Tom, she'd be with Dev.
  • Ghostly Chill: Dev feels one in the House of Horrors when he reaches the spot where Linda Gray was murdered, but admits that this may be a result of suggestion rather than a genuine ghostly manifestation.
  • Goofy Suit: Dev is made to wear "the fur" — a suit of the carnival's mascot, Howie. Despite the sweltering conditions he's forced to perform in, he generally has a positive experience from it given the reactions he garners from the kids.
  • The Hero: Despite being a typical everyman in most respects, Dev ends up regarded as one by almost everybody, and for good reason. During his few months working at Joyland, Dev saves two lives - he prevents a little girl from choking and is on hand when a co-worker has a heart attack - and that's before he caught the serial killer who'd evaded justice for over a decade. (Although Erin and Annie played equally important roles in the latter.)
  • I See Dead People:
    • Just one manifestation of Mike's powerful psychic abilities.
    • Tom is the only one of the three friends to see Linda Gray's ghost during their trip through the House of Horrors; years later, he's still angry and confused about why she appeared to him and no-one else.
  • Jerkass: Eddie, one of the old workers at the park. It turns out he used to have a family. His daughter was hit by a car and died alone and his wife ended up leaving him not long after. After Dev saves him from his heart attack, he matter of factly says "You should have let me died. That way I could be with my daughter".
  • Kiss of Life: Dev does it to Eddie after he has a heart attack, though he really doesn't want to.
  • Meaningful Name: The fact that Annie is a crack shot leads to a number of Annie Get Your Gun references. Even further Lampshaded when she plays a game at Joyland's shooting gallery, which is named Annie Oakley's Shootin' Gallery.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Tom Kennedy easily wins over everyone he meets by the sheer power of his niceness.
    • Dev admits that Erin's second husband is probably one, but can't bear to meet him even years after Tom's death.
  • Nightmare Sequence: The night after he saved Eddie from a heart attack, Dev has a dream in which he has to do the same to Fred Dean, but the moment he tries mouth to mouth resuscitation, spiders come crawling out of Fred's mouth and into Dev's.
  • Official Couple: Dev's co-workers and housemates, Tom and Erin, very quickly become an item. The Distant Finale reveals that they got Happily Married, but that Tom died of a brain tumor in his late thirties and that Erin has by now remarried.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Most people who see Linda Gray's ghost assume she is either a slightly creepy waxwork model in the House of Horrors (due entirely to her outstretched hands and pleading look — she's certainly not blood-covered or semi-transparent), and she seems to look more or less like a living person when she appears. Dev never sees her for himself, so he (and the reader) have to rely on other characters' reports of her manifestations. The same goes for the ghost of Eddie. According to Mike, he looked just like a regular human, not white and/or transparent.
  • Pet the Dog: Eddie has a second heart attack, dying the same night Dev has been brought to Joyland by Linda Gray's killer. His ghost warns Mike about it and it is thanks to him that Annie was able to show up just in time to save Dev.
  • Preacher's Kid: Annie's estranged father is a popular televangelist who denounced her as Type 2 (Diabolic) after she became a Hard-Drinking Party Girl, quit the NRA, joined the American Atheist Society and got pregnant from a one-night stand. Annie is really more of a Type 3 (Neutral) in reality - or at least, she becomes one after settling down to care for Mike.
  • Psychic Powers:
    • Rozzie Gold, a.k.a. Madame Fortuna, is Joyland's resident fortune teller with a minor but genuine talent for her art: 90% of what she says is bullshit based on Cold Reading, but the other 10% is eerily accurate and impossible to fake.
    • Mike is a genuinely powerful psychic.
    • The fact that Tom is able to see Linda Gray's ghost when Dev and Erin don't might mean that he's a weak psychic like Rozzie - especially since sudden flashes of natural psychic ability in otherwise non-psychic people are a common theme in King's books.
  • Red Herring:
    • One of the victims attributed to the Carny Killer doesn't fit the pattern - she was of a different racial background (a black girl, whereas all the others were white blondes) and was raped before her throat was cut, unlike the others. It's implied that her place in the pattern threw the police off the trail of the real killer. Dev and Erin discount her from their list of victims; although it doesn't help them identify the killer, it provides a clearer pattern and possible motive.
    • There are some hints that Eddie wears gloves to cover up the tattoos that the killer had in the pictures. When Dev removes his gloves, he discovers that Eddie just has psoriasis. Later on, the tattoos themselves are revealed to be red herrings; the killer used temporary tattoos to throw off the police.
  • The Reveal: The Carny Killer is revealed to be Lane Hardy, an employee at Joyland whom Dev befriended.
  • Serial Killer: "The Carny Killer".
  • Sexy Packaging: Perhaps done intentionally given the pulp throwback style that Hard Case Crime specializes in, the cover puts emphasis on one of the "Hollywood Girls" wearing a short dress which, while not inaccurate, has little to do with the main story. Even more blatant is the limited edition's cover which features a woman in a bikini wielding a shotgun and has nothing to do with the plot.
  • Speed Sex: The first time Dev has sex with Annie, he lasts for about nine seconds. Luckily, he's soon ready for a second time... which lasts for four minutes. Third time is the charm.
  • Take That!: To religious fanatics with Holier Than Thou mentality, like Annie's father.
    Mrs. Shoplaw: I can't understand why people use religion to hurt each other when there's already so much pain in the world. Religion is supposed to comfort.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The story manages to juggle various different plots without becoming too cluttered; Dev's coming of age at Joyland, the mystery concerning Linda Gray's murder and her ghost as well as Mike and his mother.