Named a 2019 Writer to Watch by the Los Angeles Times, Richard Chiem has written a new novel that is equal parts sledgehammer and sweet song. King of Joy is a neon, pulsing portrait of grief, and a story of one woman's survival against all odds.
The right amount of both dreamy and dark ... The novel is lush, packed with jarring details, and surprisingly tender ... Although sex and porn drive the plot, Chiem chooses to leave the act itself offstage; this puts the novel’s focus where it belongs and intensifies the characters’ connections. In King of Joy, everyone is either an actor or a voyeur, including the reader. Chiem’s command of perspective is excellent, and each sensory detail feels like a nail on the skin ... The novel is enticingly bitter at times, juxtaposing sharp images against pastel-sentimental landscapes ... The balance of acid and sweet is King of Joy‘s strength ... delicious, demonic novel that fades through adjacent, looping worlds in the magical early 2000s. Chiem evokes a lost decade and suggests the shape of the monsters that churned beneath its surface.
Dreamy, beautifully written, hippo-inflected, grief-soaked ... [Chiem's] meditative sentences pull you close, and then, right when he has you where he wants you, he shows you some weird thing that makes you laugh, tear up a little, or remember that even your tiniest insights and observations are valuable to the world ... shows off Chiem's knack for writing about trauma while avoiding cliche.
... pulpy noir, part Tarantino, part Thelma and Louise, featuring pornographers, pretentious playwrights, a pit bull named Marco, and a pod of homicidal hippopotami ... a novel about grief, told in a dream-like haze that mostly, but not entirely, avoids any mention of time and place ... a lovely, multi-faceted character study ... While it’s questionable whether Chiem’s finely drawn portrayal of heartache, loneliness, and isolation works alongside a hyper-real narrative about an insane, vengeful pornographer, I did find it entertaining. The climax happens in a rush, almost as if Chiem had somewhere else to be, and yet the abrupt ending doesn’t undermine what turns out to be a surprisingly poignant novel about the devastating nature of grief, but also the importance of love and friendship.