“When it Comes to the Past, Everyone Writes Fiction” — A Few Words About Stephen King’s Joyland

I needed a work break, so I thought I’d share some lingering thoughts about a book I finished recently.

I’m a big fan of the Hard Case Crime line of hard-boiled paperbacks. Favorite authors writing the kind of stories that I love, it’s tailor-made for me and lovers of crime fiction. It’s especially exciting when an author you wouldn’t expect to release such a book shows up, like Stephen King (or the recent Michael Crichton releases).

King’s booklist is enormous and spans many different genres, but he’s primarily known for his thriller/horror works. In 2013, Hard Case Crime released King’s second novel for the imprint, Joyland (his first was The Colorado Kid, which I haven’t yet read — if you’ve seen SyFy’s Haven, you might be familiar with it).

Joyland

King takes a similar narrative approach to “The Body,” in that his narrator is an older man relating events that happened to him as a younger man, interjecting with asides and context from the future. I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age story — reflecting on your first love, the inevitable heartbreak, your recovery, your journey to adulthood — and angling it from the perspective of your older self adds a value of wisdom and introspection.

As I posted to Tumblr not long ago, there’s a great line early in the book regarding this very idea:

When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure. By the time you’re sixty, take it from me, you’re fucking lost.

We’re in love with this idea of discovering ourselves. That’s why coming-of-age stories are so prevalent in fiction in the first place; the journey of learning who we are is romantic and reassuring. The idea that there’s always a brighter future ahead. But the truth is we’re never going to know.  And if we do reach that point where we know who we are exactly, doesn’t that mean we’ve stopped growing?

Why would you want that? I’m not sixty, obviously, but I can relate to the sentiment here. We’re so desperate to find the meaning or purpose of our lives, some sort of bigger picture, that we forget to appreciate the other stuff. I know Ferris Bueller relates (“Life moves pretty fast…” etc). For my own part, it’s partially what my book Pawn Shop is about.

Joyland is more than growing up and heartbreak, though, as it does include a grisly murder mystery and a haunted amusement park ride and other great King trademarks. But it’s Devin Jones (Jonesy to the carnies) that’s the main attraction, dead people or not. Through Jonesy, we get a look at how we analyze or pasts, how we attribute meaning to things that had no meaning in the present but mean the world in retrospect.

Most importantly, it’s a reminder that there is no roadmap. You’re going to get sidelined and you’re going to deal with bullshit. But maybe when you’re closer to death than you are to your first birthday, you’ll see the reason for it all.

Or maybe you won’t. That’s life.

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Filed under blog, books, prose, writing

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