No matter the format, Stephen King's work is spellbinding because the author himself is spellbound. The first hugely popular writer of the TV generation, King published his first novel, Carrie, in 1974, the year before the last U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam. Images from that war -- and protests against it -- had flooded America's living rooms for nearly ten years. In Hearts in Altantis, King mesmerizes readers with fiction deeply rooted in the Sixties, and explores -- through four defining decades -- the haunting legacy of the Vietmnam War.
As the characters in Hearts in Atlantis are tested in every way, King probes and unlocks the secrets of his generation for us all. Full of danger, full of suspense, and most of all full of heart, Stephen King's new book will take some readers to a place they have never been able to leave completely.
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.80(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 21, 1947
Place of Birth:Portland, Maine
Education:B.S., University of Maine at Orono, 1970
Read an Excerpt
I. A Boy and His Mother. Bobby's Birthday.
The New Roomer. Of Time and Strangers.
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. Randall Garfield was spared this extremity by dying of a heart attack at thirty-six. He was a real-estate agent, and breathed his last on the kitchen floor of someone else's house. The potential buyer was in the living room, trying to call an ambulance on a disconnected phone, when Bobby's dad passed away. At this time Bobby was three. He had vague memories of a man tickling him and then kissing his cheeks and his forehead. He was pretty sure that man had been his dad. Sadly missed, it said on Randall Garfield's gravestone, but his mom never seemed all that sad, and as for Bobby himself...well, how could you miss a guy you could hardly remember?
Eight years after his father's death, Bobby fell violently in love with the twenty-six-inch Schwinn in the window of the Harwich Western Auto. He hinted to his mother about the Schwinn in every way he knew, and finally pointed it out to her one night when they were walking home from the movies (the show had been The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, which Bobby didn't understand but liked anyway, especially the part where Dorothy McGuire flopped back in a chair and showed off her long legs). As they passed the hardware store, Bobby mentioned casually that the bike in the window would sure make a great eleventh-birthday present for some lucky kid.
"Don't even think about it," she said. "I can't afford a bike for your birthday. Your father didn't exactly leave us well off, yo u know."
Although Randall had been dead ever since Truman was President and now Eisenhower was almost done with his eight-year cruise, Your father didn't exactly leave us well off was still his mother's most common response to anything Bobby suggested which might entail an expenditure of more than a dollar. Usually the comment was accompanied by a reproachful look, as if the man had run off rather than died.
No bike for his birthday. Bobby pondered this glumly on their walk home, his pleasure at the strange, muddled movie they had seen mostly gone. He didn't argue with his mother, or try to coax her -- that would bring on a counterattack, and when Liz Garfield counterattacked she took no prisoners -- but he brooded on the lost bike...and the lost father. Sometimes he almost hated his father. Sometimes all that kept him from doing so was the sense, unanchored but very strong, that his mother wanted him to. As they reached Commonwealth Park and walked along the side of it -- two blocks up they would turn left onto Broad Street, where they lived -- he went against his usual misgivings and asked a question about Randall Garfield.
"Didn't he leave anything, Mom? Anything at all?" A week or two before, he'd read a Nancy Drew mystery where some poor kid's inheritance had been hidden behind an old clock in an abandoned mansion. Bobby didn't really think his father had left gold coins or rare stamps stashed someplace, but if there was something, maybe they could sell it in Bridgeport. Possibly at one of the hockshops. Bobby didn't know exactly how hocking things worked, but he knew what the shops looked like -- they had three gold balls hanging out front. And he was sure the hocksho p guys would be happy to help them. Of course it was just a kid's dream, but Carol Gerber up the street had a whole set of dolls her father, who was in the Navy, had sent from overseas. If fathers gave things -- which they did -- it stood to reason that fathers sometimes left things.
When Bobby asked the question, they were passing one of the streetlamps which ran along this side of Commonwealth Park, and Bobby saw his mother's mouth change as it always did when he ventured a question about his late father. The change made him think of a purse she had: when you pulled on the drawstrings, the hole at the top got smaller.
"I'll tell you what he left," she said as they started up Broad Street Hill. Bobby already wished he hadn't asked, but of course it was too late now. Once you got her started, you couldn't get her stopped, that was the thing. "He left a life insurance policy which lapsed the year before he died. Little did I know that until he was gone and everyone -- including the undertaker -- wanted their little piece of what I didn't have. He also left a large stack of unpaid bills, which I have now pretty much taken care of -- people have been very understanding of my situation, Mr. Biderman in particular, and I'll never say they haven't been."
All this was old stuff, as boring as it was bitter, but then she told Bobby something new. "Your father," she said as they approached the apartment house which stood halfway up Broad Street Hill, "never met an inside straight he didn't like."
"What's an inside straight, Mom?"
"Never mind. But I'll tell you one thing, Bobby-O: you don't ever want to let me catch you playing cards for money. I've had enough of that to last me a lifetime."
Bobby wanted to enquire further, but knew better; more questions were apt to set off a tirade. It occurred to him that perhaps the movie, which had been about unhappy husbands and wives, had upset her in some way he could not, as a mere kid, understand. He would ask his friend John Sullivan about inside straights at school on Monday. Bobby thought it was poker, but wasn't completely sure.
"There are places in Bridgeport that take men's money," she said as they neared the apartment house where they lived. "Foolish men go to them. Foolish men make messes, and it's usually the women of the world that have to clean them up later on. Well..."
Bobby knew what was coming next; it was his mother's all-time favorite.
"Life isn't fair," said Liz Garfield as she took out her housekey and prepared to unlock the door of 149 Broad Street in the town of Harwich, Connecticut. It was April of 1960, the night breathed spring perfume, and standing beside her was a skinny boy with his dead father's risky red hair. She hardly ever touched his hair; on the infrequent occasions when she caressed him, it was usually his arm or his cheek which she touched.
"Life isn't fair," she repeated. She opened the door and they went in.
It was true that his mother had not been treated like a princess, and it was certainly too bad that her husband had expired on a linoleum floor in an empty house at the age of thirty-six, but Bobby sometimes thought that things could have been worse. There might have been two kids instead of just one, for instance. Or three. Hell, even four.
Or suppose she had to work some really hard job to support the two of them? Sully's mom worked at the Tip-Top Baker y downtown, and during the weeks when she had to light the ovens, Sully-John and his two older brothers hardly even saw her. Also Bobby had observed the women who came filing out of the Peerless Shoe Company when the three o'clock whistle blew (he himself got out of school at two-thirty), women who all seemed way too skinny or way too fat, women with pale faces and fingers stained a dreadful old-blood color, women with downcast eyes who carried their work shoes and pants in Total Grocery shopping bags. Last fall he'd seen men and women picking apples outside of town when he went to a church fair with Mrs. Gerber and Carol and little Ian (who Carol always called Ian-the-Snot). When he asked about them Mrs. Gerber said they were migrants, just like some kinds of birds -- always on the move, picking whatever crops had just come ripe. Bobby's mother could have been one of those, but she wasn't.
What she was was Mr. Donald Biderman's secretary at Home Town Real Estate, the company Bobby's dad had been working for when he had his heart attack. Bobby guessed she might first have gotten the job because Donald Biderman liked Randall and felt sorry for her -- widowed with a son barely out of diapers -- but she was good at it and worked hard. Quite often she worked late. Bobby had been with his mother and Mr. Biderman together on a couple of occasions -- the company picnic was the one he remembered most clearly, but there had also been the time Mr. Biderman had driven them to the dentist's in Bridgeport when Bobby had gotten a tooth knocked out during a recess game -- and the two grownups had a way of looking at each other. Sometimes Mr. Biderman called her on the phone at night, and during those conversat ions she called him Don. But "Don" was old and Bobby didn't think about him much.
Bobby wasn't exactly sure what his mom did during her days (and her evenings) at the office, but he bet it beat making shoes or picking apples or lighting the Tip-Top Bakery ovens at four-thirty in the morning. Bobby bet it beat those jobs all to heck and gone. Also, when it came to his mom, if you asked about certain stuff you were asking for trouble. If you asked, for instance, how come she could afford three new dresses from Sears, one of them silk, but not three monthly payments of $11.50 on the Schwinn in the Western Auto window (it was red and silver, and just looking at it made Bobby's gut cramp with longing). Ask about stuff like that and you were asking for real trouble.
Bobby didn't. He simply set out to earn the price of the bike himself. It would take him until the fall, perhaps even until the winter, and that particular model might be gone from the Western Auto's window by then, but he would keep at it. You had to keep your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel. Life wasn't easy, and life wasn't fair.
When Bobby's eleventh birthday rolled around on the last Tuesday of April, his mom gave him a small flat package wrapped in silver paper. Inside was an orange library card. An adult library card. Goodbye Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Don Winslow of the Navy. Hello to all the rest of it, stories as full of mysterious muddled passion as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Not to mention bloody daggers in tower rooms. (There were mysteries and tower rooms in the stories about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but precious little blood and never any passion.)
"Ju st remember that Mrs. Kelton on the desk is a friend of mine," Mom said. She spoke in her accustomed dry tone of warning, but she was pleased by his pleasure -- she could see it. "If you try to borrow anything racy like Peyton Place or Kings Row, I'll find out."
Bobby smiled. He knew she would.
"If it's that other one, Miss Busybody, and she asks what you're doing with an orange card, you tell her to turn it over. I've put written permission over my signature."
"Thanks, Mom. This is swell."
She smiled, bent, and put a quick dry swipe of the lips on his cheek, gone almost before it was there. "I'm glad you're happy. If I get home early enough, we'll go to the Colony for fried clams and ice cream. You'll have to wait for the weekend for your cake; I don't have time to bake until then. Now put on your coat and get moving, sonnyboy. You'll be late for school."
They went down the stairs and out onto the porch together. There was a Town Taxi at the curb. A man in a poplin jacket was leaning in the passenger window, paying the driver. Behind him was a little cluster of luggage and paper bags, the kind with handles.
"That must be the man who just rented the room on the third floor," Liz said. Her mouth had done its shrinking trick again. She stood on the top step of the porch, appraising the man's narrow fanny, which poked toward them as he finished his business with the taxi driver. "I don't trust people who move their things in paper bags. To me a person's things in a paper sack just looks slutty."
"He has suitcases, too," Bobby said, but he didn't need his mother to point out that the new tenant's three little cases weren't such of a much. None matched; al l looked as if they had been kicked here from California by someone in a bad mood.
Bobby and his mom walked down the cement path. The Town Taxi pulled away. The man in the poplin jacket turned around. To Bobby, people fell into three broad categories: kids, grownups, and old folks. Old folks were grownups with white hair. The new tenant was of this third sort. His face was thin and tired-looking, not wrinkled (except around his faded blue eyes) but deeply lined. His white hair was baby-fine and receding from a liverspotted brow. He was tall and stooped-over in a way that made Bobby think of Boris Karloff in the Shock Theater movies they showed Friday nights at 11:30 on WPIX. Beneath the poplin jacket were cheap workingman's clothes that looked too big for him. On his feet were scuffed cordovan shoes.
"Hello, folks," he said, and smiled with what looked like an effort. "My name's Theodore Brautigan. I guess I'm going to live here awhile."
He held out his hand to Bobby's mother, who touched it just briefly. "I'm Elizabeth Garfield. This is my son, Robert. You'll have to pardon us, Mr. Brattigan -- "
"It's Brautigan, ma'am, but I'd be happy if you and your boy would just call me Ted."
"Yes, well, Robert's late for school and I'm late for work. Nice to meet you, Mr. Brattigan. Hurry on, Bobby. Tempus fugit."
She began walking downhill toward town; Bobby began walking uphill (and at a slower pace) toward Harwich Elementary, on Asher Avenue. Three or four steps into this journey he stopped and looked back. He felt that his mom had been rude to Mr. Brautigan, that she had acted stuck-up. Being stuck-up was the worst of vices in his little circle of friends. Carol loathed a st uck-up person; so did Sully-John. Mr. Brautigan would probably be halfway up the walk by now, but if he wasn't, Bobby wanted to give him a smile so he'd know at least one member of the Garfield family wasn't stuck-up.
His mother had also stopped and was also looking back. Not because she wanted another look at Mr. Brautigan; that idea never crossed Bobby's mind. No, it was her son she had looked back at. She'd known he was going to turn around before Bobby knew it himself, and at this he felt a sudden darkening in his normally bright nature. She sometimes said it would be a snowy day in Sarasota before Bobby could put one over on her, and he supposed she was right about that. How old did you have to be to put one over on your mother, anyway? Twenty? Thirty? Or did you maybe have to wait until she got old and a little chicken-soupy in the head?
Mr. Brautigan hadn't started up the walk. He stood at its sidewalk end with a suitcase in each hand and the third one under his right arm (the three paper bags he had moved onto the grass of 149 Broad), more bent than ever under this weight. He was right between them, like a tollgate or something.
Liz Garfield's eyes flew past him to her son's. Go, they said. Don't say a word. He's new, a man from anywhere or nowhere, and he's arrived here with half his things in shopping bags. Don't say a word, Bobby, just go.
But he wouldn't. Perhaps because he had gotten a library card instead of a bike for his birthday. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Brautigan," Bobby said. "Hope you like it here. Bye."
"Have a good day at school, son," Mr. Brautigan said. "Learn a lot. Your mother's right -- tempus fugit."
Bobby looked at his mother to see if his small rebellion might be forgiven in light of this equally small flattery, but Mom's mouth was ungiving. She turned and started down the hill without another word. Bobby went on his own way, glad he had spoken to the stranger even if his mother later made him regret it.
As he approached Carol Gerber's house, he took out the orange library card and looked at it. It wasn't a twenty-six-inch Schwinn, but it was still pretty good. Great, actually. A whole world of books to explore, and so what if it had only cost two or three rocks? Didn't they say it was the thought that counted?
Well...it was what his mom said, anyway.
He turned the card over. Written on the back in her strong hand was this message: "To whom it may concern: This is my son's library card. He has my permission to take out three books a week from the adult section of the Harwich Public Library." It was signed Elizabeth Penrose Garfield.
Beneath her name, like a P.S., she had added this: Robert will be responsible for his own overdue fines.
"Birthday boy!" Carol Gerber cried, startling him, and rushed out from behind a tree where she had been lying in wait. She threw her arms around his neck and smacked him hard on the cheek. Bobby blushed, looking around to see if anyone was watching -- God, it was hard enough to be friends with a girl without surprise kisses -- but it was okay. The usual morning flood of students was moving schoolward along Asher Avenue at the top of the hill, but down here they were alone.
Bobby scrubbed at his cheek.
"Come on, you liked it," she said, laughing.
"Did not," said Bobby, although he had.
"What'd you get for your birt hday?"
"A library card," Bobby said, and showed her. "An adult library card."
"Cool!" Was that sympathy he saw in her eyes? Probably not. And so what if it was? "Here. For you." She gave him a Hallmark envelope with his name printed on the front. She had also stuck on some hearts and teddy bears.
Bobby opened the envelope with mild trepidation, reminding himself that he could tuck the card deep into the back pocket of his chinos if it was gushy.
It wasn't, though. Maybe a little bit on the baby side (a kid in a Stetson on a horse, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUCKAROO in letters that were supposed to look like wood on the inside), but not gushy. Love, Carol was a little gushy, but of course she was a girl, what could you do?
"It's sort of a baby card, I know, but the others were even worse," Carol said matter-of-factly. A little farther up the hill Sully-John was waiting for them, working his Bo-lo Bouncer for all it was worth, going under his right arm, going under his left arm, going behind his back. He didn't try going between his legs anymore; he'd tried it once in the schoolyard and rapped himself a good one in the nuts. Sully had screamed. Bobby and a couple of other kids had laughed until they cried. Carol and three of her girlfriends had rushed over to ask what was wrong, and the boys all said nothing -- Sully-John said the same, although he'd been pale and almost crying. Boys are boogers, Carol had said on that occasion, but Bobby didn't believe she really thought so. She wouldn't have jumped out and given him that kiss if she did, and it had been a good kiss, a smackeroo. Better than the one his mother had given him, actually.
"It's not a baby c ard," he said.
"No, but it almost is," she said. "I thought about getting you a grownup card, but man, they are gushy."
"I know," Bobby said.
"Are you going to be a gushy adult, Bobby?"
"I hope not," he said. "Are you?"
"No. I'm going to be like my mom's friend Rionda."
"Rionda's pretty fat," Bobby said doubtfully.
"Yeah, but she's cool. I'm going to go for the cool without the fat."
"There's a new guy moving into our building. The room on the third floor. My mom says it's really hot up there."
"Yeah? What's he like?" She giggled. "Is he ushy-gushy?"
"He's old," Bobby said, then paused to think. "But he had an interesting face. My mom didn't like him on sight because he had some of his stuff in shopping bags."
Sully-John joined them. "Happy birthday, you bastard," he said, and clapped Bobby on the back. Bastard was Sully-John's current favorite word; Carol's was cool; Bobby was currently between favorite words, although he thought ripshit had a certain ring to it.
"If you swear, I won't walk with you," Carol said.
"Okay," Sully-John said companionably. Carol was a fluffy blonde who looked like a Bobbsey Twin after some growing up; John Sullivan was tall, black-haired, and green-eyed. A Joe Hardy kind of boy. Bobby Garfield walked between them, his momentary depression forgotten. It was his birthday and he was with his friends and life was good. He tucked Carol's birthday card into his back pocket and his new library card down deep in his front pocket, where it could not fall out or be stolen. Carol started to skip. Sully-John told her to stop.
"Why?" Carol asked. "I like to skip."
"I like to say bastard , but I don't if you ask me," Sully-John replied reasonably.
Carol looked at Bobby.
"Skipping -- at least without a rope -- is a little on the baby side, Carol," Bobby said apologetically, then shrugged. "But you can if you want. We don't mind, do we, S-J?"
"Nope," Sully-John said, and got going with the Bo-lo Bouncer again. Back to front, up to down, whap-whap-whap.
Carol didn't skip. She walked between them and pretended she was Bobby Garfield's girlfriend, that Bobby had a driver's license and a Buick and they were going to Bridgeport to see the WKBW Rock and Roll Extravaganza. She thought Bobby was extremely cool. The coolest thing about him was that he didn't know it.
Bobby got home from school at three o'clock. He could have been there sooner, but picking up returnable bottles was part of his Get-a-Bike-by-Thanksgiving campaign, and he detoured through the brushy area just off Asher Avenue looking for them. He found three Rheingolds and a Nehi. Not much, but hey, eight cents was eight cents. "It all mounts up" was another of his mom's sayings.
Bobby washed his hands (a couple of those bottles had been pretty scurgy), got a snack out of the icebox, read a couple of old Superman comics, got another snack out of the icebox, then watched American Bandstand. He called Carol to tell her Bobby Darin was going to be on -- she thought Bobby Darin was deeply cool, especially the way he snapped his fingers when he sang "Queen of the Hop" -- but she already knew. She was watching with three or four of her numbskull girlfriends; they all giggled pretty much nonstop in the background. The sound made Bobby think of birds in a petshop. On TV, Dick Clark was curren tly showing how much pimple-grease just one Stri-Dex Medicated Pad could sop up.
Mom called at four o'clock. Mr. Biderman needed her to work late, she said. She was sorry, but birthday supper at the Colony was off. There was leftover beef stew in the fridge; he could have that and she would be home by eight to tuck him in. And for heaven's sake, Bobby, remember to turn off the gas-ring when you're done with the stove.
Bobby returned to the television feeling disappointed but not really surprised. On Bandstand, Dick was now announcing the Rate-a-Record panel. Bobby thought the guy in the middle looked as if he could use a lifetime supply of Stri-Dex pads.
He reached into his front pocket and drew out the new orange library card. His mood began to brighten again. He didn't need to sit here in front of the TV with a stack of old comic-books if he didn't want to. He could go down to the library and break in his new card -- his new adult card. Miss Busybody would be on the desk, only her real name was Miss Harrington and Bobby thought she was beautiful. She wore perfume. He could always smell it on her skin and in her hair, faint and sweet, like a good memory. And although Sully-John would be at his trombone lesson right now, after the library Bobby could go up his house, maybe play some pass.
Also, he thought, I can take those bottles to Spicer's -- I've got a bike to earn this summer.
All at once, life seemed very full.
Sully's mom invited Bobby to stay for supper, but he told her no thanks, I better get home. He would much have preferred Mrs. Sullivan's pot roast and crispy oven potatoes to what was waiting for him back at the apartment, b ut he knew that one of the first things his mother would do when she got back from the office was check in the fridge and see if the Tupperware with the leftover stew inside was gone. If it wasn't, she would ask Bobby what he'd had for supper. She would be calm about this question, even offhand. If he told her he'd eaten at Sully-John's she would nod, ask him what they'd had and if there had been dessert, also if he'd thanked Mrs. Sullivan; she might even sit on the couch with him and share a bowl of ice cream while they watched Sugarfoot on TV. Everything would be fine...except it wouldn't be. Eventually there would be a payback. It might not come for a day or two, even a week, but it would come. Bobby knew that almost without knowing he knew it. She undoubtedly did have to work late, but eating leftover stew by himself on his birthday was also punishment for talking to the new tenant when he wasn't supposed to. If he tried to duck that punishment, it would mount up just like money in a savings account.
When Bobby came back from Sully-John's it was quarter past six and getting dark. He had two new books to read, a Perry Mason called The Case of the Velvet Claws and a science-fiction novel by Clifford Simak called Ring Around the Sun. Both looked totally ripshit, and Miss Harrington hadn't given him a hard time at all. On the contrary: she told him he was reading above his level and to keep it up.
Walking home from S-J's, Bobby made up a story where he and Miss Harrington were on a cruise-boat that sank. They were the only two survivors, saved from drowning by finding a life preserver marked S.S. LUSITANIC. They washed up on a little island with palm trees and jungles and a volcano, and as they lay on the beach Miss Harrington was shivering and saying she was cold, so cold, couldn't he please hold her and warm her up, which he of course could and did, my pleasure, Miss Harrington, and then the natives came out of the jungle and at first they seemed friendly but it turned out they were cannibals who lived on the slopes of the volcano and killed their victims in a clearing ringed with skulls, so things looked bad but just as he and Miss Harrington were pulled toward the cooking pot the volcano started to rumble and --
Bobby looked up, even more startled than he'd been when Carol Gerber raced out from behind the tree to put a birthday smackeroo on his cheek. It was the new man in the house. He was sitting on the top porch step and smoking a cigarette. He had exchanged his old scuffed shoes for a pair of old scuffed slippers and had taken off his poplin jacket -- the evening was warm. He looked at home, Bobby thought.
"Oh, Mr. Brautigan. Hi."
"I didn't mean to startle you."
"You didn't -- "
"I think I did. You were a thousand miles away. And it's Ted. Please."
"Okay." But Bobby didn't know if he could stick to Ted. Calling a grownup (especially an old grownup) by his first name went against not only his mother's teaching but his own inclination.
"Was school good? You learned new things?"
"Yeah, fine." Bobby shifted from foot to foot; swapped his new books from hand to hand.
"Would you sit with me a minute?"
"Sure, but I can't for long. Stuff to do, you know." Supper to do, mostly -- the leftover stew had grown quite attractive in his mind by now.
"Absolutely. Things to do and < I>tempus fugit."
As Bobby sat down next to Mr. Brautigan -- Ted -- on the wide porch step, smelling the aroma of his Chesterfield, he thought he had never seen a man who looked as tired as this one. It couldn't be the moving in, could it? How worn out could you get when all you had to move in were three little suitcases and three carryhandle shopping bags? Bobby supposed there might be men coming later on with stuff in a truck, but he didn't really think so. It was just a room -- a big one, but still just a single room with a kitchen on one side and everything else on the other. He and Sully-John had gone up there and looked around after old Miss Sidley had her stroke and went to live with her daughter.
"Tempus fugit means time flies," Bobby said. "Mom says it a lot. She also says time and tide wait for no man and time heals all wounds."
"Your mother is a woman of many sayings, is she?"
"Yeah," Bobby said, and suddenly the idea of all those sayings made him tired. "Many sayings."
"Ben Jonson called time the old bald cheater," Ted Brautigan said, drawing deeply on his cigarette and then exhaling twin streams through his nose. "And Boris Pasternak said we are time's captives, the hostages of eternity."
Bobby looked at him in fascination, his empty belly temporarily forgotten. He loved the idea of time as an old bald cheater -- it was absolutely and completely right, although he couldn't have said why...and didn't that very inability to say why somehow add to the coolness? It was like a thing inside an egg, or a shadow behind pebbled glass.
"Who's Ben Jonson?"
"An Englishman, dead these many years," Mr. Brautigan said. "Self-centered and foolish about money, b y all accounts; prone to flatulence as well. But -- "
"What's that? Flatulence?"
Ted stuck his tongue between his lips and made a brief but very realistic farting sound. Bobby put his hands to his mouth and giggled into his cupped fingers.
"Kids think farts are funny," Ted Brautigan said, nodding. "Yeah. To a man my age, though, they're just part of life's increasingly strange business. Ben Jonson said a good many wise things between farts, by the way. Not so many as Dr. Johnson -- Samuel Johnson, that would be -- but still a good many."
"Pasternak. A Russian," Mr. Brautigan said dismissively. "Of no account, I think. May I see your books?"
Bobby handed them over. Mr. Brautigan (Ted, he reminded himself, you're supposed to call him Ted) passed the Perry Mason back after a cursory glance at the title. The Clifford Simak novel he held longer, at first squinting at the cover through the curls of cigarette smoke that rose past his eyes, then paging through it. He nodded as he did so.
"I have read this one," he said. "I had a lot of time to read previous to coming here."
"Yeah?" Bobby kindled. "Is it good?"
"One of his best," Mr. Brautigan -- Ted -- replied. He looked sideways at Bobby, one eye open, the other still squinted shut against the smoke. It gave him a look that was at once wise and mysterious, like a not-quite-trustworthy character in a detective movie. "But are you sure you can read this? You can't be much more than twelve."
"I'm eleven," Bobby said. He was delighted that Ted thought he might be as old as twelve. "Eleven today. I can read it. I won't be able to understand it all, but if it's a good story, I'll like it."
"Your birthday!" Ted said, looking impressed. He took a final drag on his cigarette, then flicked it away. It hit the cement walk and fountained sparks. "Happy birthday dear Robert, happy birthday to you!"
"Thanks. Only I like Bobby a lot better."
"Bobby, then. Are you going out to celebrate?"
"Nah, my mom's got to work late."
"Would you like to come up to my little place? I don't have much, but I know how to open a can. Also, I might have a pastry -- "
"Thanks, but Mom left me some stuff. I should eat that."
"I understand." And, wonder of wonders, he looked as if he actually did. Ted returned Bobby's copy of Ring Around the Sun. "In this book," he said, "Mr. Simak postulates the idea that there are a number of worlds like ours. Not other planets but other Earths, parallel Earths, in a kind of ring around the sun. A fascinating idea."
"Yeah," Bobby said. He knew about parallel worlds from other books. From the comics, as well.
Ted Brautigan was now looking at him in a thoughtful, speculative way.
"What?" Bobby asked, feeling suddenly self-conscious. See something green? his mother might have said.
For a moment he thought Ted wasn't going to answer -- he seemed to have fallen into some deep and dazing train of thought. Then he gave himself a little shake and sat up straighter. "Nothing," he said. "I have a little idea. Perhaps you'd like to earn some extra money? Not that I have much, but -- "
"Yeah! Cripes, yeah!" There's this bike, he almost went on, then stopped himself. Best keep yourself to yourself was yet another of his mom's sayings. "I'd do just about anything you wanted!"
Ted Brautigan looked simultaneously a larmed and amused. It seemed to open a door to a different face, somehow, and Bobby could see that, yeah, the old guy had once been a young guy. One with a little sass to him, maybe. "That's a bad thing to tell a stranger," he said, "and although we've progressed to Bobby and Ted -- a good start -- we're still really strangers to each other."
"Did either of those Johnson guys say anything about strangers?"
"Not that I recall, but here's something on the subject from the Bible: 'For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner. Spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence...'" Ted trailed off for a moment. The fun had gone out of his face and he looked old again. Then his voice firmed and he finished. "'...before I go hence, and be no more.' Book of Psalms. I can't remember which one."
"Well," Bobby said, "I wouldn't kill or rob anyone, don't worry, but I'd sure like to earn some money."
"Let me think," Ted said. "Let me think a little."
"Sure. But if you've got chores or something, I'm your guy. Tell you that right now."
"Chores? Maybe. Although that's not the word I would have chosen." Ted clasped his bony arms around his even bonier knees and gazed across the lawn at Broad Street. It was growing dark now; Bobby's favorite part of the evening had arrived. The cars that passed had their parking lights on, and from somewhere on Asher Avenue Mrs. Sigsby was calling for her twins to come in and get their supper. At this time of day -- and at dawn, as he stood in the bathroom, urinating into the bowl with sunshine falling through the little window and into his half-open eyes -- Bobby felt like a dream in someone else's head.
"Where did you live before you came here, Mr....Ted?"
"A place that wasn't as nice," he said. "Nowhere near as nice. How long have you lived here, Bobby?"
"Long as I can remember. Since my dad died, when I was three."
"And you know everyone on the street? On this block of the street, anyway?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"You'd know strangers. Sojourners. Faces of those unknown."
Bobby smiled and nodded. "Uh-huh, I think so."
He waited to see where this would lead next -- it was interesting -- but apparently this was as far as it went. Ted stood up, slowly and carefully. Bobby could hear little bones creak in his back when he put his hands around there and stretched, grimacing.
"Come on," he said. "It's getting chilly. I'll go in with you. Your key or mine?"
Bobby smiled. "You better start breaking in your own, don't you think?"
Ted -- it was getting easier to think of him as Ted -- pulled a keyring from his pocket. The only keys on it were the one which opened the big front door and the one to his room. Both were shiny and new, the color of bandit gold. Bobby's own two keys were scratched and dull. How old was Ted? he wondered again. Sixty, at least. A sixty-year-old man with only two keys in his pocket. That was weird.
Ted opened the front door and they went into the big dark foyer with its umbrella stand and its old painting of Lewis and Clark looking out across the American West. Bobby went to the door of the Garfield apartment and Ted went to the stairs. He paused there for a moment with his hand on the bannister. "The Simak book is a great story," he said. "Not such great writing, though. Not bad, I don't mean to say that, but take it from me, there is better."
"There a re also books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story, Bobby. Don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words -- the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers that won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book."
"Are there many of those, do you think?" Bobby asked.
"More than the book-snobs and play-it-safers think. Many more. Perhaps I'll give you one. A belated birthday present."
"You don't have to do that."
"No, but perhaps I will. And do have a happy birthday."
"Thanks. It's been a great one." Then Bobby went into the apartment, heated up the stew (remembering to turn off the gas-ring after the stew started to bubble, also remembering to put the pan in the sink to soak), and ate supper by himself, reading Ring Around the Sun with the TV on for company. He hardly heard Chet Huntley and David Brinkley gabbling the evening news. Ted was right about the book; it was a corker. The words seemed okay to him, too, although he supposed he didn't have a lot of experience just yet.
I'd like to write a story like this, he thought as he finally closed the book and flopped down on the couch to watch Sugarfoot. I wonder if I ever could.
Maybe. Maybe so. Someone had to write stories, after all, just like someone had to fix the pipes when they froze or change the streetlights in Commonwealth Park when they burned out.
An hour or so later, after Bobby had picked up Ring Around the Sun and begun reading again, his mother came in. Her lipstick was a bit smeared at one corner of her mouth and her slip was hanging a little. Bobby thought of pointing this out to her, then remembered how much she disliked it when someone told her it was "snowing down south." Besides, what did it matter? Her working day was over and, as she sometimes said, there was no one here but us chickens.
She checked the fridge to make sure the leftover stew was gone, checked the stove to make sure the gas-ring was off, checked the sink to make sure the pot and the Tupperware storage container were both soaking in soapy water. Then she kissed him on the temple, just a brush in passing, and went into her bedroom to change out of her office dress and hose. She seemed distant, preoccupied. She didn't ask if he'd had a happy birthday.
Later on he showed her Carol's card. His mom glanced at it, not really seeing it, pronounced it "cute," and handed it back. Then she told him to wash up, brush up, and go to bed. Bobby did so, not mentioning his interesting talk with Ted. In her current mood, that was apt to make her angry. The best thing was to let her be distant, let her keep to herself as long as she needed to, give her time to drift back to him. Yet he felt that sad mood settling over him again as he finished brushing his teeth and climbed into bed. Sometimes he felt almost hungry for her, and she didn't know.
He reached out of bed and closed the door, blocking off the sound of some old movie. He turned off the light. And then, just as he was starting to drift off, she came in, sat on the side of his bed, and said she was sorry she'd been so stand-offy tonight, but there had been a lot going on at the office and she was tired. Sometimes it was a madhouse, she said. She stroked a finger across his forehead and then kissed him there , making him shiver. He sat up and hugged her. She stiffened momentarily at his touch, then gave in to it. She even hugged him back briefly. He thought maybe it would now be all right to tell her about Ted. A little, anyway.
"I talked with Mr. Brautigan when I came home from the library," he said.
"The new man on the third floor. He asked me to call him Ted."
"You won't -- I should say nitzy! You don't know him from Adam."
"He said giving a kid an adult library card was a great present." Ted had said no such thing, but Bobby had lived with his mother long enough to know what worked and what didn't.
She relaxed a little. "Did he say where he came from?"
"A place not as nice as here, I think he said."
"Well, that doesn't tell us much, does it?" Bobby was still hugging her. He could have hugged her for another hour easily, smelling her White Rain shampoo and Aqua Net hold-spray and the pleasant odor of tobacco on her breath, but she disengaged from him and laid him back down. "I guess if he's going to be your friend -- your adult friend -- I'll have to get to know him a little."
"Well -- "
"Maybe I'll like him better when he doesn't have shopping bags scattered all over the lawn." For Liz Garfield this was downright placatory, and Bobby was satisfied. The day had come to a very acceptable ending after all. "Goodnight, birthday boy."
She went out and closed the door. Later that night -- much later -- he thought he heard her crying in her room, but perhaps that was only a dream.
Copyright © 1999 by Stephen King
Reading Group Guide
1. Hearts in Atlantis traces several characters from childhood through college and into adulthood. How does King explore the maturation process? In King's fiction, what distinguishes childhood from adulthood? In becoming adults, what do we lose? What do we gain? Does the book suggest that "growing up" means something unique to each generation?
2. Why does the escalating war -- and the possibility of the students being drafted -- form an eerie backdrop to the title story "Hearts in Atlantis"? In what way is the Hearts tournament a metaphor for the Vietnam War?
3. How does the supernatural element in "Low Men in Yellow Coats" set the stage for the rest of the collection, which increasingly shifts its focus toward Vietnam? What effect does King achieve by pairing supernatural horror with the human horrors of war? What does the book suggest is more disturbing: actual events, or the inventions of our wildest imaginations?
4. Books play an important role for certain characters, Lord of the Flies for Ted, Bobby, Carol, and Pete, and The Sun Also Rises for Sully. Why are these books important to them? What do they reveal to them about the world we live in? What books have been important to you and why? What does Hearts in Atlantis show us about the world we live in?
5. There are many tender and funny passages in this book coupled with disturbing descriptions of war, human cruelty, and loss of control. Recall the students' laughter at Stokely's fall, and Carol's recollection that the boys who attacked her had been "joking and then...weren't." In what ways does King explore the fine line between humor and horror?
6. Several characters in Hearts inAtlantis experience disappointment in their own actions or reactions. Bobby couldn't bring himself to accompany Ted and the low men. Pete had trouble resisting the allure of the Hearts tournament -- and laughed at Stokely's fall. Sully-John lacked the courage to stop Malenfant's murder of the villagers in Vietnam. How does shame shape identity and influence behavior? Willie Shearman reacts by making "sorry" his "full-time job." How do other characters in these stories cope or fail to cope with their regrets?
7. In several instances, characters physically carry "the wounded" to safety. Bobby carries Carol, the students carry Stokely, and Willie carries Sully-John. What is the significance of this imagery? Which of the book's themes does it advance?
8. The threatening forces in this book often emanate from the least likely places and characters. Liz Garfield, for example, suspects Ted Brautigan of being a child molester when in fact she herself is revealed as a menacing presence in her son Bobby's life. How does King challenge our expectations of where evil and darkness reside?
9. Who are the heroes and who are the villains in this book? Recall Willie Shearman's role in attacking Carol and his later rescue of Sully-John in Vietnam. Recall also Carol's dedication to the peace movement and her involvement in increasingly violent demonstrations. Can someone be both a villain and a hero? Is heroism based on a person's actions or character? How do the conditions of war blur the lines between heroism and villainy?
10. In "Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling," Carol says: "People grow up, they grow up and leave the kids they were behind." "Do they?" Bobby asks. Answer his question. Do the characters in Hearts in Atlantis leave their childhoods behind? Or do their childhoods inform and shape their adult lives? Is it possible for anyone to leave childhood behind?
11. Discuss the use of symbols and signs throughout the book. Recall the mundane harbingers of the low men -- the lost pet signs and hopscotch boards -- which become increasingly ominous. Recall also King's depiction of the peace sign, which starts as a fad and gains resonance as the war takes center stage. What imbues a symbol with meaning? How does King use symbols in his fiction to create certain effects?
12. Carol uses symbols when she inscribes Lord of the Flies to Pete (p. 401-402). What do you think she means by [love+peace=information]? What does she mean when she says the book is full of information?
13. Discuss King's treatment of the theme of memory. In what ways is memory a curse and in what ways is it a salvation for the characters in this book? What does Diefenbacker mean when he says "There's memory and then there's what you actually see in your mind?" (p. 493)
14. Discuss the significance of the collection's title: "Hearts in Atlantis". Is King suggesting that the 1960's are a remote and mythical lost world? Is everyone's past a kind of Atlantis? Did the American 60's have a quality that make them especially hard to access by conventional memory or describe adequately to later generations?
15. Some pundits today see the 1960s as mini Dark Ages of Western culture. What impression of the '60s do you get from Hearts in Atlantis and how does it compare with your own experience or understanding of the '60s?
16. The Vietnam War has been the focus of numerous books and movies. How does King's treatment of the war and its era differ from others? In what ways is his approach most compelling and evocative?
17. Ted Brautigan says to Bobby Garfield: "When you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book." Does Hearts in Atlantis have both a good story and good writing? Bobby is distressed after reading Lord of the Flies that he can't decide whether the ending is good or bad. Is the ending to King's latest collection good, bad, both, or neither?
18. In the story, "Why We're in Vietnam," Diefenbacker laments the failure of his generation to act when they had the opportunity to change everything (p. 498). He says, "You know the price of selling the future, Sully-John? You can never really leave the past...And it's better that way. Vietnam is better. That's why we stay there." Do you agree with Diefenbacker's assessment? In what way are we still in Vietnam today?
19. How does every story in Hearts in Atlantis tell the story of Vietnam? Consider the characters choices about when to act and when to simply watch; when to obey authority and when to rebel; when to see and when to be blind.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Most people find this book hard to read. Let me explain. You read the first part of the book and get into the story then all of a sudden the second part of the book switches on you. Leaving you going what the heck? Did he just decided not to finish the first d*mn part? Bare with this one folks!!! I am not kidding you this book is such a good read if you keep with it. It is actually my second favorite book by King. I've urged my friends who gave up on this one to give it another try. Wonderful work.
This is one if the most underrated King novels. Captivating.
In HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, Stephen King gets in a few more pokes and jabs at his detractors, the ones who consider him a schlock-meister. They are the 'legitimate' literary establishment, 'book snobs,' but ol' SK still seems to be trying to break into their ranks. He may have done it with this collection of two long and three short stories bound by recurring characters, the lost cause of a certain police action in Southeast Asia, and that horrible, beautiful decade that defined King's Boomer generation, the Sixties. His faithful readers will recognize his New England landscape and theme of innocence lost, but these stories offer little resistance to novice King readers. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS might be considered King's magnum opus; time will tell. He's a prolific guy, sometimes brilliant and sometimes not, but man, does he know how to tell a story. There are times between this book's cover that you can almost touch the difference between the Stephen King who wrote CARRIE and the one who wrote this. It's not just fun and games and a good clean scare anymore; there's a depth to King's writing here that, while hinted at in some of his early works, has revealed itself fully in HEARTS IN ATLANTIS.
Reminiscent of "Stand By Me". Classic Steven King characters - without the scary. Great for anyone who was around in the 60's - or who wishes they were.
Heart in Atlantis was published in 1999.The collection's first story, "Low Men in Yellow Coats", formed the basis of a 2001 film entitled Hearts in Atlantis, starring Anthony Hopkins as Ted Brautigan, Anton Yelchin as Bobby Garfield, and Hope Davis as Liz Garfield. Major story elements are common to the film and the story, but many of the details were changed.
This book was great!!!! It was a lot better then what I expect. The first story in the book. Low Men in Yellow Coats sets the stage of the whole entire book.The first story also allow you to meet some of the characters that will appear in the followering stories.
Anyone looking for a good book to read....please check out Heart in Atlantis!!!
It can't be said enough, there's nothing like a Stephen King book! Found this book to be very interesting. Very well written.
For those of you who lived in the 60's remember want was going on with the war and how life around you was that's in the second part. First you need players that's were you start reading. Mr. King puts a little bits of the Dark Tower series in this a great read by all means.
I didn't really think this one had a plot. It just seemed to have a story that was never finished. I felt like I was left hanging at the end... maybe that was the point. It wasn't a total waste of time though, I love SK's vivid descriptions and enjoy his writing aside from the story.
Overall, this book was very good. The title, Hearts is Atlantis, is somewhat confusing, and would make an unsuspecting reader think that the book is a romance novel. This, after reading the book, is not the case.
Personally, I prefered the first story about Bobby, Carol, and Ted. The third story could have been eliminated entirely, as I thought that is was mainly a prelude to the fourth story. The second story was very interesting and the use of the word 'Hearts' from the title becomes more clear. The fifth and final story is simply a conclusion to the events of the other four.
It seems that nobody is quite sure what type of book Hearts in Atlantis is. A novel? A short story collection? What? Well, I¿ve come to the conclusion that it is a novel divided into five parts. Each part is related to the others by recurring characters. I liked most of the 5 parts, although one of them (Why We¿re in Vietnam) was odd¿ But overall, it¿s a well-written departure from Mr. King¿s usual works. I say ¿departure¿ because this book hardly contains any scary or supernatural elements. Instead it focuses on the Vietnam War and the lives it touched. However, the first part - ¿Low Men in Yellow Coats¿ - does have Dark Tower references and paranormal themes. I¿d read that part before reading the last Dark Tower installment, too. It¿ll help clear things up later on down the road. All in all, a great read, but unlike anything Mr. King has written before. That can be good or bad depending on you, the reader.
My favorite Stephen King book is still 'The Stand,' and I say that only because I understand there are a lot of like minded folks out there who feel that is Mr. King's best work. For entertainment value, for an eye opening panorama of a world gone wrong, sure. It's great. But, of all the other King titles I've read and enjoyed, I would have to say that this is his most important work. I envy those who read it having read nothing else by him, particularly his Dark Tower series. The interweaving that takes place in Hearts is amazing. But for a few blatant references, the book almost falls into that category of universal that some might even consider a classic. The title story in particular. It's so simple, but it says so much. Others here have referenced 'Low Men in Yellow Coats,' as their favorite. Certainly there is no piece in American fiction that makes the reader want to pick up a copy of 'Lord of the Flies,' and start reading. I say that because I had to read 'Lord of the Flies,' of my own volition, mind you, before I could feel right about reading Hearts. Definitely worth reading if you haven't yet, and, like some of King's best, perhaps worthy of a re-read.
This book was incredible, and the stanza 'Low Men in Yellow Coats' was some of my favorite work by King, but Atlantis disappoints me with the dropout of action after the dizzying climax of 'Low Men.' The other stories are on par with King's other work, all including his great characterization and imagination, but I felt the plot of each story and the interconnected story was dwarfed by the struggle of loyalty and self preservation by Bobby in his first appearance. Either way, this story earns 4 stars. I recommend it for 'Low Men' alone.
I listen to alot of audiobooks due to my commute, but I found that this story put me into a time machine each time that it started. Even though I was born in the 80's, the rememberances of the 60's up through the end of the 90's struck a profound chord in my heart and even made me a bit nostalgic for a time that I had never even known. I have read almost all of Mr. King's works and this one soars above a great many of them. With the author reading a large part of this story I think it makes it even more moving.
This book was amazing. I found myself getting hooked on the characters' emotions as the impressions of joy, love, sadness, confusion, hatred, and terror sank deep into their lives. Although very different for Stephen King, it hooked me and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read.
Though it may be true that the 'children of the '60's' will get a little more out of this book than the rest of us, this book is a masterpiece. The opening story 'Low Men in Yellow Coats' is undoubtedly the novella we would all come to expect from King; equal parts suspense, supernatural occurances, mystery, and just plain story it's an entertaining read. However the greatest parts of this book are the stories that follow. King draws on the emotions and uncertainties that we all experience at one time or another in our lives and creates characters that seem not only real, but actually part of ourselves. This book also includes what may be one of King's greatest stories, 'Hearts in Atlantis.' There are no imaginary monsters, no made-up psychological forces - only the real ones that show up in real-life coming of age. Be warned though, it's an emotional rollercoaster of a story that will leave you smiling and crying at the same time. If you're a die-hard King connoisseur, a casual King reader, or just someone who loves an engaging story well-told - this book should be at the top of your list. Highly Recommended!
It was a great book, it left me thinking long after I finished.
Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King, Pocket Books, 1999, 672 pgs, $7.99, 0-7434-3621-0 Have you ever loved someone so much, you never want them to leave? Bobby was put in a situation to either let that someone go or have them stay with the chance of being found. Bobby lives with his mom and never knew his father. His mom and him live in an apartment and the other room was put up for rent. When Ted came to live there, Bobby¿s mom didn¿t like him from first glance. For him it was different. Ted and Bobby started to get real close when Ted told him to watch out for everyday things. A kite stuck on a telephone wire, hopscotch drawn in sidewalk chalk, or ordinary things that normally go unnoticed was a ¿sign¿. Whenever you saw these things, it meant ¿they¿ were near. Bobby struggles as he goes through things with the love of his life, Carol and his best friend Sully John. Worst of all is his choice of whether or not to save Ted and have him leave, or to keep Ted and put him in danger. This book keeps you excited and wondering as you go through Bobby¿s feelings and thoughts. It¿s funny and enjoyable and not a waste of time. It made me look at life in a different perspective and has an ending that keeps me guessing still. If you like adventurous and funny, yet romantic, you¿ll love ¿Hearts in Atlantis¿.
As an avid Stephen King fan since the age of 8, I believe this book is one of his best (with the exception of the Dark Tower series, of course). Although I did not live through the '60s myself, Stephen King made me feel like I was right there. This book had so much feeling and such deep characters that I could not put it down. I was a little disappointed by the lack of explanation of the 'low men', but I thought that in general, this is one of the best books I have read lately, by any author. A must-read for any true Stephen King fan.
This is the best love story of all time. It starts out as just a tipical Steven King story. Then it pick up when two childhood friends sought out to find each other after being apart for over 30 years.
I loved the way Stephen King put me into the mind of an 11 year old kid. The first part of the book I recommended to my 11 year old. Some people say it isn't a scary book but I felt fear while reading this book. Irrational, unexplainable fear that gave me the creeps. I liked the references to Viet Nam and the 60's. He made up his own history but played on actual events. Some parts of the story seem like they could actually happen and are real, and some parts are very bizaar, which makes for a fantastic fictional read.
As a collection I found this quite weak,but Bobby's story did pull at my heart strings
In which Stephen King writes a "Wonder Years" episode. Well, more like the whole series. Ugh.Hearts in Atlantis is not a horror book at all. It's been out a while, and picked it up for cheap used, and didn't know this about it. It follows the life of an uninteresting kid from the Northeast leading an unremarkable life in the 50's, becoming a rather timid "radical" in the 60's, and an aging boomer father by the end. In the mean time, we meet the mundane people of his life, childhood bullies, bad influences in college (why study when there is money to be made playing Hearts?), friends who go to Viet Nam; some who suffer from debilitating illness. I didn't care about a single one -- for the first time, King's power of character creation was utterly lost on me.Other King books have started out slow but managed to generate SOME interest by the end. This never did. I kept waiting for a justification that I did not waste 19 hours of my life listening to this, but it never came.
"Low Men in Yellow Coats" boosts this an extra half star. The story is the best in the collection and William Hurt's narration only adds to the value of this collection.
There's a lot to like about this collection of long stories. The opener, "Low Men in Yellow Coats," is set firmly in the Dark Tower universe but also a great standalone coming-of-age story. The remaining stories are about the Vietnam generation, both during the war and after it, and aren't necessarily the supernatural horror that King is known for. Of these, the most compelling are the title story and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling," the last story, but the entire collection is very good writing and kind of a departure for King.
Eh, no "real review" this time. This is an older book that has been reviewed a hundred times. Anyway, I wrote a llloooooonnnnng "What I thought".I knew that, eventually, I¿d give Stephen King another try. I was very near mortally scarred by reading The Stand when I was 12 or 13. Look people, I¿ve never even seen a Friday the 13th or anything like that. The scariest movie I¿ve ever seen is Silence of the Lambs. I was a restless sleeper for weeks after seeing The Blair Witch Project. As for books, I still get goosebumps when I think of Christina¿s Ghost or Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.Suffice it to say, I¿m a wimp.Anyway, this book didn¿t look to scawwy. It seemed to fall into the Non-horror-Stephen-King category (of which I¿ve seen several movies¿).This is technically a collection of short stories, but it reads more like a novel. A few characters wind a common thread between the five stories.We begin with Low Men in Yellow Coats: it is 1960. Three friends; Bobby, Carol, and Sully-John; live in a pretty little suburb in Connecticut. Bobby has a new upstairs neighbor, a strange older man named Ted. Against Bobby¿s widowed mother¿s wishes, he and Ted become friends. Bobby was recently gifted an adult library card, and Ted guides him through the world of adult fiction. Bobby¿s mother constantly worries that Ted is abusing Bobby¿there¿s definitely a very King-esque creepy-old-man vibe coming from Ted. But the strangest thing that Ted does is warn Bobby about ¿Low Men in Yellow Coats¿, and tells him to be on the lookout for strange things in his idyllic, suburban neighborhood: lost pet signs, upside down car-for-sale ads, things like that. This story is a great example of another common Stephen King theme: boys coming of age.One thing happened that I feel I have to mention ¿ Ted, at one point, mentioned ¿The Gunslinger.¿ `The Gunslinger!¿ I thought. `Like, the Dark Tower Gunslinger?¿ A few pages later, the Dark Tower is mentioned. I slammed down the book. I know OF The Dark Tower. I know it¿s a lengthy series of novels, and I very VERY MUCH do NOT want to get involved in a series right now. I went to my handy catalog and only picked Hearts in Atlantis up again after I¿d ascertained that it was not one of the Dark Tower series. In fact, those two little mentions were all that was said of it. Someday, when I have the time to get involved with a series, I hope to find out why King mentioned it in passing in this book.Flash forward to 1966. Peter Riley¿s a freshman at the University of Maine. He arrives on the first day with a Barry Goldwater bumper sticker on his car, and leaves at the end of the year with a hand-drawn peace sign on the back of his jacket. In between, he plays a helluva lot of Hearts and flirts with the pretty girl he works with in the cafeteria dishroom, Carol from Connecticut. I liked this story the best of them all because, well, I wasted away a large chunk of my college years playing euchre. I know of what Peter Riley speaks.Blind Willie Speaks finally takes us out of the 1960¿s. Willie is a seemingly normal businessman in 1983 ¿ but he is haunted by two incidents in his life: the senseless beating of a girl when he was a bully growing up in Connecticut, and what happened when he wound up in Viet Nam. What he does to cope may seem outlandish to some, but whatever keeps him going, I guess. This, and the following two stories, is far shorter and more snapshot-like than the first two.Why We¿re in Viet Nam is probably the shortest story, but the one that haunted me the most. Sully-John meets with a fellow veteran at a third¿s funeral, and they speak of things that they can only talk to each other about. In particular, of the My Lai massacre: the Hearts-obsessed soldier and Mama-san the old Vietnamese woman that he killed. This story is of a deeply troubled man and the ghosts of his past. I loved it.Finally, we get to ¿Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling¿. At first, I was kind of annoyed at this sort of neatly-ti