Review

Hearts in Atlantis

by Stephen King



HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is the third offering Stephen King has bestowed
upon his Constant Readers in 1999. Like his two previous novels,
this one is a bit...different. STORM OF THE CENTURY was a
screenplay in book form. THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON was a fairly
straight-ahead little drama about a girl lost in the woods, and
though lacking supernatural elements, was in some ways the most
terrifying book King has ever written. And now we have HEARTS IN
ATLANTIS, where King redraws the boundaries and limits between the
kingdom of the novel and the city of the short
story.    

Not a novel, yet not just a collection of stories, HEARTS IN
ATLANTIS consists of one novel ("Low Men In Yellow Coats") one
short novel ("Hearts In Atlantis") and three short stories ("Blind
Willie," "Why We're In Vietnam," and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are
Falling"), spanning the four decades between 1960 and 1999. The
offerings herein are linked by time (particularly the tumultuous
events of the national nightmare known as the '60s), events and
characters; the reader accordingly should not succumb to the
temptation to read HEARTS IN ATLANTIS as a collection of stories
but should instead read it as presented.

As for what is presented, well, King begins with some of his finest
writing thus far in "Low Men In Yellow Coats." This could have been
subtitled "The Dark Tower 4.1" and certainly further solidifies the
link between that world and our own. Those familiar with King's
Dark Tower mythos will delight in picking out references to what
has gone before and divining what is to come; those unfamiliar with
Roland the Gunslinger will be puzzled with some of the references
but will otherwise be entranced by the story of the friendship of
Bobby, Carol and Sully-John, three 11-on-the-verge-of-12-year-olds
in 1960 suburban Connecticut. Their on-the-surface orderly lives
are dramatically changed by the appearance of Ted Brautigan, an
elderly, faintly mysterious gentleman who takes the apartment above
the one Bobby shares with his widowed mother. Brautigan brings
trouble with him --- the Low Men are after him, don't you know ---
but he brings gifts as well. Gifts which will influence the three
children for good and for ill, for years to come.

"Hearts In Atlantis," the second of the five stories, occurs almost
entirely in the lounge of a college dormitory. Though the story
takes place only six years after "Low Men In Yellow Coats," the
country has changed dramatically. And shows signs of changing
further still. The country is at war in Vietnam, and wars need
bodies. Male bodies, specifically. Since college students were
deferred from the draft at that time it behooved young men to stay
in college lest they find themselves on the way to Saigon. This
state of affairs is well known to all concerned. Why, then, are the
inhabitants of a particular male dormitory using their free time,
and in some cases their class time, to play...Hearts? This is a
particularly uneasy story. There are no supernatural overtures
here, but they may well swim beneath the surface. There is also a
temptation to classify this as a Dark Tower story as well, but that
is an argument best left for the gatherings, bulletin boards and
conventions.

Then we come to the story titled "Blind Willie." It is 1983.
Vietnam is a memory, a phantom pain indelibly scarred on the
national psyche. And that psyche can be tweaked. Repeatedly. Bill
Shearman/Willie Shearman/Blind Willie, a Vietnam veteran and war
hero, tweaks it every day. And not honorably. But very successfully
nonetheless. This story, though well done and more than capable of
standing on its own, had the feel of being half-finished, or of
being a work in progress. It would not be surprising to see it
enlarged, standing as a novel on its own at some point, so that we
can see if Blind Willie ever resolves his dilemma with Officer
Wheelock, and if he is ever found out, and if maybe the whole scam
didn't hatch with Mrs. Shearman.

The circle that started with "Low Men In Yellow Coats" closes with
"Why We're In Vietnam" and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling,"
in which Bobby, Carol, and Sully-John, separated from each other
--- and their childhoods --- in 1960 are reunited, in a way, in
1999. And Ted Brautigan puts in a surprise appearance here, as
well.        

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is going to be picked over, analyzed, discussed,
written about and, most importantly, enjoyed by King's legions of
fans and critics. Readers of THE DARK TOWER series will be
particularly pleased, and confounded, by what is presented here.
Ultimately, however, this will be an important book for anyone who
experienced the 1960s, a decade whose events, haunt us --- as they
did Bobby, Carol and Sully-John --- to this very day.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Hearts in Atlantis
by Stephen King

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror
  • Mass Market Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket
  • ISBN-10: 0671024248
  • ISBN-13: 9780671024246