Joyland by Stephen King (read in 2015)

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Updated by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

You can tell this is a Stephen King book from a mile away. It’s about a young man—Devin, a writer—who’s been jilted by the love of his life. She’s decided that it’s time to see other people and he’s not quite on board with that yet. So he takes a job several states away and spends a good deal of time mooning around over her.

He makes a couple of good friends at this odd little amusement park called Joyland. They have a dog mascot that he’s especially good at playing. After learning of a ghost in the haunted-house ride, Devin becomes nearly obsessed with the case and is convinced that he can release the ghost if he just finds the real killer.

Along the way, he befriends a standoffish woman, Annie, through her son Mike, who’s physically disabled but gifted in other ways. He is crucial to releasing the ghost because of his psychic powers. They finally discover the real killer hiding right under their noses. They all learn a lot about life, go their separate ways and nobody really lives happily ever after, but that’s OK too.


“This is a badly broken world, full of wars and cruelty and senseless tragedy. Every human being who inhabits it is served his or her portion of unhappiness and wakeful nights. Those of you who don’t already know that will come to know it. Given such sad but undeniable facts of the human condition, you have been given a priceless gift this summer: you are here to sell fun. In exchange for the hard-earned dollars of your customers, you will parcel out happiness. Children will go home and dream of what they saw here and what they did here. I hope you will remember that when the work is hard, as it sometimes will be, or when people are rude, as they often will be, or when you feel your best efforts have gone unappreciated. This is a different world, one that has its own customs and its own language, which we simply call the Talk. You’ll begin learning it today. As you learn to talk the Talk, you’ll learn to walk the walk. I’m not going to explain that, because it can’t be explained; it can only be learned.”
Location 760–767
“What’s carny-from-carny mean?” “Means you’re like old man Easterbrook. His father worked the carny circuit back in the Dust Bowl days, and his grandfather worked it back when they had a fake Indian show featuring Big Chief Yowlatcha.” “You got to be kidding!” Tom exclaimed, almost exultantly. Pop gave him a cool stare that settled Tom down—a thing not always easy to do. “Son, do you know what history is?” “Uh…stuff that happened in the past?” “Nope,” he said, tying on his canvas change-belt. “History is the collective and ancestral shit of the human race, a great big and ever-growin pile of crap. Right now we’re standin at the top of it, but pretty soon we’ll be buried under the doodoo of generations yet to come. That’s why your folks’ clothes look so funny in old photographs, to name but a single example. And, as someone who’s destined to be buried beneath the shit of your children and grandchildren, I think you should be just a leetle more forgiving.”
Location 825–834