CBR11Bingo Pick: Summer ReadTAs his first serious relationship disintegrates, New Hampshire college student Devin Jones flees New England for a summer job at an independent amusement park in North Carolina. Over the course of an extended summer he learns how to get over a girl, how to speak like a carny, and how to survive in a mascot suit on a hot day. He’ll also make a couple of lifelong friends, save two lives, and come to the aide of a struggling single mother and her disabled son. And oh yeah, he might just solve a murder.
Devin has only had the job at Joyland for an hour or so before he first hears the story of Linda Gray’s murder. Four years earlier, Linda and her date had entered the Haunted House ride and, at a particularly dark corner, her date had slashed her throat and dumped her body. Ever since, the staff at Joyland has been arguing over whether the attraction is haunted by her ghost. When Devin and his friends Erin and Tom decide to investigate, Tom is so rattled by what he sees that he won’t even discuss it. Devin and Erin continue their inquiry on their own.
At the same time Devin also befriends his temporary neighbors, Annie Ross and her son Mike. Annie, the rebellious child of a televangelist, is hiding out from the world with Mike, trying to deny that her son will soon die from the muscular dystrophy that keeps him largely confined to a wheelchair. As he gets closer to the mother-son pair, Devin is amazed at how insightful Mike is for such a young kid. It’s almost like he can read minds…
For all that happens in Joyland, it still manages to feel like King in a more restrained mode. There’s less reliance on the macabre or the supernatural, and more time spent on character development, especially the inner life of Devin, the first-person narrator. Joyland is a breezy ride, sort of like a merry-go-round, that goes a little haywire near the end with a chaotic, explosive climax. The end of the story was genuinely moving, leaving me tearing up a little, something I never do while reading. It’s a powerful moment in a memorable story.