Corvus has always had an overactive imagination. Growing up, she develops a unique coping mechanism: she can imagine herself out of any situation, no matter how terrible. To get through each day, Corvus escapes into scenes from fantasy novels, pop songs, and action/adventure movies, and survives by turning the everyday into just another role to play in the movie of her life.
After a tragic loss, Corvus finds a sadness so great she cannot imagine it away. Instead, she finds Tim, a pornographer with unconventional methods, who offers her a new way to escape into movies. But when a sinister plot of greed and betrayal is revealed, Corvus must fight to reclaim her independence, and discovers she is stronger than even she could have imagined.
Written in Richard Chiem’s singular style, this debut novel is equal parts sledgehammer and sweet song, a neon, pulsing portrait of grief. King of Joy tells the triumphant, electrifying story of one woman’s quest for survival against all odds, and serves as a reminder that resilience can be found even in our most hopeless moments.
This novel is transfixing: an imaginative meditation on emotional survival, isolation, and the beauty and limitations of human connection. I love Chiem’s writing.
What a funny, fresh, bittersweet masterpiece—there is no one else in the world writing like Richard Chiem. From the sentence-level wizardry to the racing plot, I feel smarter just having read this. Every page brings a new set of wonders.
King of Joy is a perfect rendering of that feeling of dark and hopeful closeness with loss I’ve always known but could never put to words.
Richard Chiem writes like someone whispering in your ear. He’s insistent and methodical, and you want to hear every word he has to say. King of Joy takes Chiem’s unparalleled voice and carefully amplifies it, ratcheting the tension until you’re not sure where he stops and you begin. It is a brilliant, tender examination of the unholy magnitude of trauma. It shows how pain can simultaneously destroy and preserve a person. Most of all, it is just goddamn beautiful writing."
In King of Joy, Richard Chiem shows us what it is to live in the immediate, day-to-day song of forever grief. Each sentence is masterfully written and equally afflicted by the one craving that affects us all, which is the desire to belong. This book turns pain over and over in its raw mouth, exposing what it is like to feel longing in its deepest, most hidden form, and teaches us more than we could have ever hoped to learn about pure love, loss, and the hard work of accepting the human condition.
This experimental literary novel is the right amount of both dreamy and dark . . . Lush, packed with jarring details, and surprisingly tender . . . A 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.
A remarkable portrayal of restless youth, made sweeter by the author’s crisp, spare prose and a thoughtful portrayal of a woman who lost her way.
Chiem is one of my favorite writers AND readers in Seattle. His meditative sentences pull you close, and then, right when he has you where he wants you, he shows you the strangest and most heartbreaking and quietly funny things you’ve ever seen. Women drunk on champagne and lighting a tree on fire. An airplane entering and then exiting the reflective mirror of a puddle. A glowing black chandelier. These are some of the striking scenes and images you’ll find as you follow the story of Corvus, a young woman who uses her imagination to cope with the pains of loss—until one day she suffers a loss so great she can’t escape.