Thursday, August 4, 2011

Excellent Reads: Stephen King's "Hearts In Atlantis"

The summer is such a wonderful time of the year. While the temperatures become scorching hot and muggy, and you sometimes get to the point where you feel as sweaty as a cheese, it's still such an excellent time. Being able to take advantage of the longer days (longer amounts of sunlight, that is) and engage your senses in the many opportunities that lie ahead. When you put summer and a great author together, magic is made! A prime example is in Stephen King's "Hearts In Atlantis," where he captures the Vietnam era in five segments of literary genius. I read this book out in the beautiful summer and enjoyed every moment of it. I will do my best to not reveal anything from the book, though the five stories do connect with one another.

While "Hearts In Atlantis" is the second serving Stephen King, the master of modern day horror fiction, has to offer, it serves as the chief title. We'll get back to that one, though. The first serving is "The Low Men In Yellow Coats," which is about a boy named Bobby Garfield, who lives with his agitated mother, loves to read, and hangs out with Carol Gerber and John Sullivan (also known as "Sully"). He soon befriends an old man, Ted Brautigan, who moves into the apartment in which they live. He's a mysterious man who reminisces about the "Low Men In Yellow Coats," who are coming after him. Ted also pays Bobby to read the newspaper for him, the money in which Bobby is saving up for a new bike. Bobby and Carol become close, and while they go their separate ways, "Hearts In Atlantis" is set while Carol is in college during the middle of Vietnam. Pete Riley is the center character in this story. He is not mentioned in "Low Men In Yellow Coats," but many side characters are and the males fear being drafted into the military. The title "Hearts In Atlantis" comes from the fact that Pete hangs out with a group of guys who play hearts for low stakes and Atlantis refers to a magical place where hearts are protected by innocence. Bobby is not in this story, but is mentioned as Carol reminisces about her childhood to Pete.

The other three stories, "Blind Willie," "Why We're In Vietnam," and "Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling" (which is indeed named for the opening lyrics in The Platters song "Twilight Time), tell about the aftermath of those folllowing Vietnam. "Blind Willie" is about Willie Shearman, a bully from the first story, who disguises as a blind beggar. He ultimately regretted what he did. John Sullivan and Ronnie Malenfant reunite in "Why We're In Vietnam." Finally, in "Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling," Bobby Garfield returns to his hometown to attend a funeral and resolves events that happened during his childhood, mainly those with Ted Brautigan and Carol Gerber.

I must admit that "Hearts In Atlantis" happens to be one of the very few novels in which I watched the film for before I read the book. However, the film is far different in how it basically concentrates on "The Low Men In Yellow Coats" and follows the basic premise of "Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling," but changes up the story. While I enjoyed the movie, it did not do the book complete justice (just like "The Running Man"). I thought the film held some kind of cinema magic, but then I read the book, and I immediately felt that the book shined way above the film.

Back to the book in general, "Low Men In Yellow Coats" captured an era and sent me on a direct one-way trip to 1960. Stephen King is known for being able to capture the innocence of childhood and he did it well in this segment. While this novel is not directly horror fiction, this is a scary book, and scary in a way that vampires and zombies can never be. "Hearts In Atlantis" captured the fear of the Vietnam War and how people were within one random decision of being sent out to war and possibly never returning home. While I thought that "Blind Willie" and "Why We're In Vietnam" were not as strong as the other three, it surely made an impact on what Vietnam did to people and how things that happen in the past can affect how they are in the present. "Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling" was one of the most magical endings I have read. Something that not even "...and they all lived happily ever after" could compete with. While it wasn't a fairy tale ending, it was great for such a novel. Something was resolved and I shall say nothing more.

I must say that the summer in "The Low Men In Yellow Coats" really drew out how a summer should be lived, innocently and with as much fun as you can handle. For kids, this is a simple task. For adults, they should find the time when they are not working. I also very much enjoyed the kiss on the Ferris wheel Bobby gave to Carol in "The Low Men In Yellow Coats." It leads me to thinking that while Ferris wheels are not my cup of tea, I would be interested in trying this myself if and when I ever take a female I'm dating to an event with a Ferris wheel. Then again, it won't be as innocent, because I'm not a kid. Still, it shows a positive expression.

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