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Hearts in Atlantis

From Academic Kids

Hearts in Atlantis (1999), is a fictional work by Stephen King.

This is not quite a novel, but not quite a short story collection either. It consists of five stories taking place in different times, but bound together by recurring characters.

The first (and longest) part, "Low Men in Yellow Coats", takes place in 1960. Bobby Garfield has just turned eleven, but his mother can't afford to buy him the bike he wants. She keeps repeating that they are low on money since his father died, despite evidence to the contrary.

Bobby decides to try to earn the money for the bike himself. At the same time, he realizes that he is in love with his friend Carol Gerber.

Early in the story one Ted Brautigan moves into an adjacent apartment on the floor above Bobby and his mother. It is obvious that she doesn't like Ted, but Bobby does. Ted spends a lot of time discussing books with Bobby (who has just gotten an adult library card for his birthday) and gives him Lord of the Flies, which makes a huge impression on him.

Ted proves to be a bit weird. He claims to be hunted by low men in yellow coats. He doesn't want to say too much about them, but he asks Bobby to keep an eye out for them and let him know when they are near. Bobby gets paid for it, but doesn't take it seriously and fails his job. These mystical men are really the only supernatural element in the book, the later parts are entirely realistic.

This early part of the work was made into the movie Hearts in Atlantis. It is an adjunct to King's Dark Tower series of novels.

The next part, "Hearts in Atlantis", takes place in 1966 and is about Peter Riley who has just started at the university. He has been a good student before, but now he's drawn to the interminable card games in the communal room in the dorm where he lives. He succeeds in making money, but his studies quickly fall behind. Failing is not a nice option either, since that will almost certainly get him drafted and sent to Vietnam.

His situation doesn't get any less complicated by meeting Carol Gerber and falling in love with her, in spite of the fact that both he and she have previous engagements at home.

To begin with, no one knows what the symbol on the back of one student's jacket means, but soon the peace symbol has spread to almost everyone. More and more people are starting to question what the United States is really doing in Vietnam. Carol is drawn to an activist group and is soon taking part in bloody demonstrations.

The last three stories are shorter. "Blind Willie" is about a Vietnam veteran's penance after the war. "Why We're in Vietnam" describes a reunion of two vets at the funeral of a third and recounts an incident that almost escalated into a My Lai. In "Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling" Bobby Garfield returns to his hometown after almost forty years, and finds closure to his relationships with Carol Gerber and Ted Brautigan.

The plots in the different stories aren't connected, but they still feel connected since there is always at least one previously familiar person in each story. A supporting character in one story may be the protagonist of the next. Towards the end of the book one has a more complete picture of the lives of the different characters and what has made them the people they became. The Low Men in Yellow Coats and Ted Brautigan are connected to King's epic The Dark Tower.

ISBN numbers

See also

Stephen King short story & novella collections
Night Shift - Different Seasons - Skeleton Crew - Four Past Midnight - Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Six Stories - Hearts in Atlantis - Blood and Smoke - Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

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