TITLE: HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
AUTHOR: STEPHEN KING
PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: HARD BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Hearts in Atlantis is composed of five interconnected, sequential narratives set in the years from 1960 – 1999. Each story is deeply rooted in the sixties, and each is haunted by the Vietnam War.
In Part One, ‘Low Men in Yellow Coats’, eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield discovers a world of predatory malice in his own neighbourhood. He also discovers that adults are sometimes not rescuers but at the heart of the terror.
In the title story, a bunch of college kids get hooked on a card game, discover the possibility of protest – and confront their own collective heart of darkness, where laughter is sometimes no more than the thinly disguised cry of the beast.
In ‘Blind Willie’ and ‘Why We’re in Vietnam’, two men who grew up with Bobby in suburban Connecticut try to fill the emptiness of the post-Vietnam war era in an America that sometimes seems as hollow – and as haunted – as their own lives.
And in ‘Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling’, this remarkable book’s denouement, Bobby returns to his hometown where one final secret, the hope of redemption, and his heart’s desire may await him.
THE OPENING LINE
Bobby Garfield’s father had been one of those fellows who start losing their hair in their twenties and are completely bald by the age of forty-five or so (LOW MEN IN YELLOW COATS).
I’ve read Hearts in Atlantis many times though not for some years. I forgot how good it is. It was a joy to read it once more and fall in love all over again. This is one of King’s best, an astounding piece of writing.
Low Men in Yellow Coats and Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling were adapted for the screen in the movie Hearts in Atlantis starring Anthony Hopkins. I have it on DVD and think it’s great. However, the title sucks because it’s taken from a story that wasn’t adapted as part of the film.
LOW MEN IN YELLOW COATS: An old man called Ted moves into the apartment building where Bobby Garfield lives and the two of them become friends. Ted is on the run and asks Bobby to keep an eye out for signs of ‘low men in yellow coats’. Ted also has some psychic powers. Bobby loves Ted and sees him as a sort of father figure. He keeps signs of the ‘low men’ to himself out of fear Ted will leave until it’s too late.
Low Men in Yellow Coats is the stand out novella in this collection. I think it’s King at his best. I thought his characterisation was great. Liz Garfield, Bobby’s mother is portrayed as a right bitch. She’s mean, cruel and nasty. She’s physically and sexually assaulted by her boss and his friends during a ‘conference’ and I didn’t even feel sorry for her. Low Men in Yellow Coats is linked to The Dark Tower. Ted is one of the Breakers, the most powerful and features heavily in the last two novels in the series. I just love this novella. I cried like a baby especially when Carol Gerber is held down by two boys while a third batters her with a baseball bat.
HEARTS IN ATLANTIS: A group of college kids get hooked on a card game called Hearts. Their addiction to the game is so intense many of them flunk out of school to be drafted into fight in the Vietnam War and one commits suicide. Carol Gerber from Low Men in Yellow Coats is a main character in Hearts in Atlantis. She joins a radical group protesting against the Vietnam War that takes protest to insane extremes.
Hearts in Atlantis is much better than I remembered. I enjoyed it a lot more this time around. I didn’t quite believe a group of kids could become so addicted to a card name they flunk out of school. I also found the concept one of them committing suicide a bit far-fetched. However, Hearts in Atlantis is very well written. I felt quite emotional when Carol Gerber started to lose her mind. This is carried across the rest of the tales in this collection. Poor Carol. The Vietnam War becomes her insanity. There are some great moments in Hearts in Atlantis.
BLIND WILLIE: Willie Shearman, one of the boys who held Carol Gerber while his friend beat her with a baseball bat in Low Men in Yellow Coats is the main character in this short story. He’s a veteran of the Vietnam War who does penance for his actions in the war and for what he and his friends did to Carol many years ago. He disguises himself as a blind beggar. He temporarily loses his sight every day the same time he was caught in firefight and temporarily blinded during the war. He saved John Sullivan’s life in the war. John Sullivan was Bobby’s best friend in Low Men in Yellow Coats. He also fought alongside Ronnie Malenfant, one of the Hearts addicts in Hearts in Atlantis. Willie has a scrap book of Carol Gerber’s descent from protest into insanity as the group she belonged to plant a bomb and kill a bunch of people.
I think Blind Willie is the weakest tale in this collection. I liked the links to previous tales. I liked finding out more about what happened to Carol Gerber. I just wasn’t that impressed by the rest of the story. I found Willie posing as a blind beggar a little weird and not in a good way. King didn’t make me believe there was a point to it. Willie does raise an interesting question though – is Carol’s insanity somehow connected to the beating she received from Willie and his friends all those years ago?
WHY WE’RE IN VIETNAM: The main character in this story is John Sullivan, Bobby’s best friend in Low Men in Yellow Coats. This is set in 1999. John attends the funeral of a war veteran and is reunited with another veteran he fought with in the Vietnam War. Both men start to question their reasons for fighting and share memories of the war. Ronnie Malenfant makes another appearance as both men remember him killing an old Vietnamese woman when he lost his mind during battle. Carol Gerber is mentioned again when John recalls reading about her alleged death in a newspaper. John dies at the end of Why We’re in Vietnam when he has a heart attack behind the wheel.
I thought Why we’re in Vietnam was a great story. It was very poignant. I think King captured the horror of war perfectly in the recollections of John and his fellow vet. I also shed a little tear when I read about Carol’s tragic end. Why we’re in Vietnam works much better than Blind Willie. I thought it was great.
HEAVENLY SHADES OF NIGHT ARE FALLING: This story is also set in 1999. Bobby Garfield returns to Connecticut for the funeral of John Sullivan. He meets a woman who calls herself Denise Schoonover who turns out to be Carol Gerber, alive, not quite as insane and living under an assumed name. In the film the woman is Carol’s daughter (?). They talk about old times. Carol/Denise gives him a copy of Lord of Flies posted to him by Ted who appears to have escaped from the ‘low men’ again.
I loved Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling. I got a big lump in my throat when I read it. I think it was the perfect end to this collection. I wanted to know how Bobby turned out since King shares the fate of John Sullivan and Carol Gerber. I like the fact Carol was alive and seemed to be okay. I thought Bobby being sent a book by Ted indicating he was on the run again was a nice touch.
I loved Hearts in Atlantis. I think King did a brave thing when he published this collection of interconnected novellas and stories. It could have been a complete flop but King pulls it off. I love the links between Low Men in Yellow Coats and The Dark Tower novels. I also loved the little links between each tale. This is a great if unusual collection. I’m glad I re-read it. I fell in love all over again.