An essential rite of passage in the 1980s was the aromatic romance of the local videogame arcade: an unavoidable place of time-suckage and escape. Joyland, takes place deep inside this grimy locale. Joyland is a childhood ghost town where Schultz’s writing crawls and growls through the first summer without the life-blood of the local arcade. Schultz has created a believable world of early teenagedom in small town Ontario.
Since we are dealing with 1984, we must endure the garage sale items from the glory days of pop culture making appearances. Love this book for its essential ’80s pop signifiers, but they are not the only thing going on here. Love it for in the quaint and passionate character development of the brother and sister duo who get co-starring credit. Divided into chapters named for the classic games of the era, Joyland “froggers” between Chris (“Player 1”) and his younger sister Tammy (“Player 2”), who are as fascinating and fresh as videogames once were. In the chapter “Dig Dug” Schultz’s language is succinct: “His spare leg hair mocked him.”
Schultz has perfectly packaged a netherworld where stale afternoons are anything but comforting. Where adults are viewed with the same hostility as is eating vegetables. It’s a carefully crafted portrait of changing times, enlivened from the get-go with the closure of the arcade church, a local tragedy only to be eclipsed by the turmoil provided by the nuclear family going through a nuclear holocaust.
It’s Schultz’s tweezer-close examinations of these moments that build a lasting impression of young and gangly insecurities, as lives are altered through domestic fatalism and uncontrollable economic upheaval. This novel takes the typified North American vanity as a gimmick and deals with the earnestness of coming of age. Joyland is a pleasure. (Nathaniel G. Moore)
by Emily Schultz, ECW Press, 2120 Queen St. East, Suite 200 Toronto, ON, M4E 1E2, ecwpress.com