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Joyland

At its heart, Stephen King's latest novel is a captivating story filled with more light than dark, more sweetness than horror, and plenty of  grace.

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Joyland, by Stephen King, Titan, 288 pages

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You can't judge a book by its publisher. Or, sometimes, even by its author. Case in point: Joyland, Stephen King's latest novel, out this month from a small imprint known for detective novels that are anything but comforting and cozy.

"Joyland" does feature a murder mystery and a wonderfully garish pulp-fiction cover ("Who Dares Enter the FUNHOUSE of FEAR?") that looks like it just flew in from 1958. And just in case anyone misses the author's name, there's a Maine story line, a supernatural angle and some classic King gore, along with plenty of rock songs.

Never mind all that. At its heart, this is a captivating story filled with more light than dark, more sweetness than horror, and plenty of  grace. While "Joyland" isn't the traditional kind of Stephen King book that will make fans turn pages until the wee hours, it'll keep plenty of readers warm all night long.

The narrator, a man in his 60s, is reminiscing about the summer of 1973 when he abandoned college and got a job at an amusement park in coastal North Carolina. He's a friendly sort, a bit nerdy, and utterly ordinary except for his lack of experience with womenfolk. Like plenty of men his age, he's devastated by the girl who got away.

King, who's about the same age as his main character, didn't spend his college years pining away for lost love. He met his future wife, Tabitha King, in the late 1960s and didn't take long to marry her. But he still brilliantly captures the doubt and despair that can overtake the lovelorn, the brooding tapestry of why-didn't-she-want-me and I-don't-want-to-go-on.

"People think first love is sweet," narrator Devin Jones says in the novel's first paragraph. "Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar. What's so sweet about that?"

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