East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Ghosts, Crimes and Philosophy: a review of Joyland


My friend Flavia says she re-reads Stephen King’s Joyland every year, usually in June, because she likes how it makes her feel. And I know a lot of people that did not like the book – and it’s because of both Flavia’s opinion and of those people’s opinion that I went and read it.
I said I’d write a review when I finished it.
Guess what… I finished it.

I’ll start by saying that Joyland plays a dangerous game, because it’s both a crime thriller and a ghost story, and if mixing genres is always dangerous, it is also true that ghost stories often deal with the revelation of some dark secret, the avenging of some old crime. So, it’s a classic mix, and it works fine. Many also point out that Joyland is a coming-of-age story, and this is throwing another genre (or is it a theme?) into the mixer.
As I said, a dangerous game, that King pulls so nicely it seems effortless.

And yes, as I said in my previous post, I was looking at the magician’s hands for the whole show, and I did see the tricks and the hooks.
Looking at the underlying mechanisms did not spoil the fun, anyway, and it was a very instructive experience.

And I solved the crime before the protagonist did – but that doesn’t make me particularly special. I told you I was burning the performer, looking for the technique not for the show.

Coming to the end of the book, I think I understood why my friend likes to re-read the book why she likes the way it makes her feel.
Joyland is a book about letting go of the past or, even better, it is a book about coming to terms with impermanence.
A lot of ghost stories work on those themes, but this one makes impermanence its core theme, its powering engine. Like all the best fantasies (and the best novels, I think) it manages to weave a tale in which everybody can find a bit of themselves.

Nice job.
I went into this one hoping to learn a few tricks from the great magician, I ended up finding a new challenge – because writing big-themed stories like this one, that also manage to be fun rides with ghosts and mysteries, looks like a worthy goal for a writer.
Ghosts, crimes and philosophy – now that’s a bragging point for a writer, the greatest possible answer to that horrid little question, “And what do you write about?”

I guess you out there already read it, but if you did not, put Joyland on your list. It’s an excellent summer read, but it’s also perfect for two rainy afternoons or two stormy nights. There’s also an illustrated edition, and a special limited edition with cover art by Robert McGinnis, in case you are into book collecting.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Ghosts, Crimes and Philosophy: a review of Joyland

  1. Well, you know, there’s a reason he’s considered a master. He’s not a horror writer, he’s a writer. I’ll put it in my list.


    • Never doubted his mastery, that’s one of the reasons I had the book on my list.
      And yes, as usual there’s no need for an adjective to go with the word “writer”.


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