Stephen King’s Joyland, and the benefit of hindsight

I recently finished Joyland, by Stephen King. It’s only the second novel of his that I’ve read, the first being 11 22 63. I can’t think why I didn’t start sooner.

Neither of these particular examples belong to the genre that King’s most famous for, but each has elements that waive the normal scientific rules of life. I found I was instantly absorbed by both books, and suspending disbelief wasn’t a problem for an instant; I just enjoyed the ride.

Joyland tells the story of Devin Jones, a student who takes a summer job at a run-down amusement park. The descriptions of the lifestyle and characters are wonderfully evocative, and there’s a mystery too, the murder of a young woman, a couple of years previously. But it’s also a powerful coming of age story, and a book about life and the joys and tragedies that make up its pattern.

The novel has a supernatural element, and plays on the idea that some events in people’s lives are preordained.

I think part of what made the story so haunting, from my point of view, was the way King handled the narration. The book uses first person, with Devin telling the story of what happened to him as a young man. I was hooked right into that period of his life, but as a narrator, every so often he pulls back, and you’re conscious that he’s now in late middle age. That means King can get you immersed in the reality of 1973, but then suddenly jolt you back to the present and show you just how history panned out.

That brings the idea of preordination much closer, because the narrator really is able to reveal the future to the reader, albeit with the benefit of hindsight. Each time I was tricked because I’d been so absorbed by the 1970’s story. I found it created a wonderfully poignant effect that sent tingles down my spine.

It also gives one the feeling of being let in on a series of secrets. In that respect, Liane Moriarty creates a similar effect at the end of The Husband’s Secret, where an all-seeing narrator lets the reader in on various bits of privileged knowledge.

I found it a highly effective and inspiring technique, and loved reading the book.

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2 thoughts on “Stephen King’s Joyland, and the benefit of hindsight

  1. I haven’t read of any of Stephen King’s novels… I’m too easily spooked, but his ‘On Writing’ is one of the best ‘how to’ books I’ve got, not least because it’s so immediate and entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

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