Where were you during the '60s? Whether you served, marched, or missed it all, something in this major new work by Stephen King will put a lump in your throat. Known as the King of Horror, the author's real talent has always been describing the horror people perpetrate on each other. He may use the supernatural as a catalyst, but King's best work is about people who remind us of ourselves because they sound like us and think like us, even when at their worst. Structured as two novellas and three short stories, Hearts in Atlantis is nevertheless a novel in which some strangeness what King refers to as the Ray Bradbury kind of childhood makes an appearance and leaves its mark, but cannot rival what the '60s wrought on an entire generation.
Bobby, Carol, and Sully-John grow up and grow apart in startling ways during the summer of 1960, helped along toward their destinies by a trio of bullies, an eerie older man, and the Low Men in Yellow Coats who hunt him. Hearts in Atlantis begins with hearts you can break, moves on to a ruthlessly destructive card game which turns its obsessed players into sheep, and finally wraps around again to flesh-and-blood broken hearts. Pete Riley tells how knowing Carol for a short time changes him from a kid with a Goldwater bumper sticker to a gassed-out peacenik and what it does to Carol the activist, whom he loves and loses in a few short weeks during this time of social upheaval. These two novellas form both the bulk of the book and its emotional center. In Blind Willie, one of the bullies now a Vietnam-haunted vet finds a certain penance in his bizarre daily ritual that both embraces and overturns '80s greed. Why We're in Vietnam follows Sully-John through the dark remains of the war, to his death in the present day. And the funeral in Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling brings the book full-circle, with an understated emotion that will take you by surprise and wring out your heart with its sad yet redeeming inevitability. You will see Stephen King in a new light. Read this moving, heartfelt modern tragedy and weep weep for our lost conscience.
Bill Gagliani is a librarian and writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.