I quite often wonder exactly where Stephen King fits into the jigsaw these days. Twenty years ago, we were all reading King and being satellites around the ‘end’ of the first stage of his career.
The glory days of Carrie, Salem’s Lot et al had come to an end. So, as far as I was concerned his last great book had been The Talisman in conjunction with Peter Straub (and if you’re reading this and have never read Straub – shame should rain down on your mortal soul).
I didn’t get on with the mid-period King either.
Adored Salem’s Lot, hated Dark Tower. Raved forever and a day about Christine and Pet Cemetery – not so much over Needful Things or Gerald’s Game. IT was a great ride aside from the spider ending. By the time we had gotten to Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher and Buick 8, I was long gone – and so were many of my fellow readers.
Horror had run its course in the world as well. King was flailing (that’s not to say there wasn’t an an unholy mass of people who would disagree with me – but I think they were reading out of habit), James Herbert (rest his soul) was repeatedly handing in the same book, Ramsey Campbell had gone underground, Dean Koontz had turned into a novel factory second only to James Patterson and Clive Barker… well, we’re all still sitting here waiting for those other instalments he promised us seemingly decades ago. (Dude – seriously, we’re on our knees here begging like dogs).
Horror – as a genre – was pretty snoozy. Take a look in any bookstore (if you can find one) at the horror section. It will be very small – with tiny flecks of light. If you need some pointers, you could certainly do worse than to check in on the likes of Christopher Ransom, Joe Hill and Adam Nevill – but the fact remains. Horror ain’t what it used to be.
And neither is Stephen King.
Look closer however and you’ll see this is a good thing. While those mid-period books never set my world on fire, his later work – Under The Dome (which is shaping up to be a high quality TV drama), Duma Key and Cell all delivered something a little different. Something worth talking about again.
The fact is, a lot of my friends that I grew up on King with, have stopped reading altogether – which is a real shame because if they had stuck around they’d find that Joyland is just about the best thing King has written since 1979.
Oh yeah – you read that right.
While King may have had more than a fair share of bullets aimed in his general direction recently, he’s dodged them all with this baby. What you have here is King writing under the radar. There appears to be no pressure to deliver a horror blockbuster – or indeed a blockbuster of any description. Much like Blockade Billy, this is King writing because he loves writing and is damn good at it. This is King with the saddle off, barebacking it over the hills with the sun on his back and his hair blowing in the wind.
I won’t waste your time or mine giving you a 300 word explanation of what the book is about – go and find it for yourself at Amazon or something. What I will tell you is that Joyland is a one-sitting read. It’s probably not what you expect – (and if you’re into this sort of thing, the audiobook is excellently read) – but it is more than worth your time and attention.
Coming in from the relatively new publisher Hard Case Crime (who have a serious amount of great books on the shelf right now), is this what it took to bring King back to doing what he does best? Telling stories that we want to be involved in?
I hope it’s not the last walk he’s going to take down this road. I don’t much care who publishes it, I would simply be really appreciative of Stephen King having a good time with a pen. Hell, it’s Stephen King – he could bang stuff out all by himself if he was so inclined.
Go investigate. Joyland is a real thrill and an absolute treat to romp through.
I would say Stephen King was back with a bang and then some – but his next book is called Doctor Sleep and is a sequel to The Shining. I don’t need a sequel to The Shining and Doctor Sleep is an awful title for a book. It sound like Koontz should have written it not the King.
Never mind. Joyland. Go read it.