Monday, July 8, 2013

For your amusement: NOS4A2, Joyland and Carnivale

It's carnival season! No, not the flamboyant festivities held in cities such as Rio but rather the time of year for taking the family to theme parks or having the traveling carnival set up for a few days in you own town.

When I was a kid, I had two carnival weekends: Fiesta Days in Spanish Fork, Utah, and Golden Onion Days in Payson, Utah. Fiesta Days usually occurred near July 24, which is a big deal in Utah; Golden Onion Days are always Labor Day weekend. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to sneak over for a Ferris Wheel ride in Spanish Fork while I'm in the area for a family reunion.

The thing is, carnivals and amusement parks are all about nostalgia and reliving childhood. Kids love the carousel and the Gravitron. The rides get bigger as the children grow. Places such as Six Flags Magic Mountain are built for the child buried--sometimes not so deeply--inside every adult. The rides are taller, faster and more expensive (although those ticket prices for even the local carnivals keep climbing). Try your best not to think of your youth when surrounded by the smells of cotton candy, funnel cakes, fresh lemonade, and the grease and gas of the rides. I feel sorry for you if you can't get at least a grin out of your memories.

And yes, there is a dark side to these amusements, one that often lasts longer than the sunny memories: the time you rode the Zipper and puked all over your middle school crush's shoes; that day after you moved to a new school so you didn't have any friends to ride with during the class trip to Lagoon so you rode the coaster six times in a row by yourself; the year the carnival came through and tried to possess the souls of everyone in your idyllic small town...

OK, only one of those is an actual memory belonging to me. The first sounds real enough and probably happened to somebody and the third, well, Mr. Dark and his October carnival are close enough to a real memory to have influenced many people's thoughts about traveling amusements.

All of this is on my mind not just because it's July and I'm itching for a ride on a roller coaster. You see, I just finished Joe Hill's NOS4A2 and easily transitioned into Stephen King's Joyland. Reading these two books prompted me to start watching Carnivale, one of the few TV series I sought out to own.

By now, you'll be able to read many reviews of NOS4A2 and Joyland. I'm not going to do that. (Unless you really want me to. I'm only about 60 pages into the senior King's book, but I bet I could write a long piece on the younger scribe's tome.) There comes a point when someone like me has to just shut up and let other people read the books and decide for themselves. My hope is that you find NOS4A2 as beautiful as I did. My hope is that you can find something of your own childhood in it. If what you find is sunny and well-remembered, great. If your discovery is darker and something you wish you could forget, take heart. It means you had a real life. Every carnival or amusement park worth the price of admission has a spook house and every life worth living has its own ghosts.

This summer, ride a roller coaster, read a book (preferably more than one), raft a river, make some memories. Puke wipes off, broken bones heal, but regret can last a lifetime.

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