I finished reading Hearts in Atlantis while on my walk today. I’ve already written about my thoughts on the first story in the book, “The Low Men in Yellow Coats.” This story, and the last story in the book are the two stories upon which the movie was rather loosely based. I was sure that it was going to be my favorite story in the book. As it turns out, it was close, but not quite.
My favorite story in the book turned out to be the second story, the title story, “Hearts in Atlantis.” Unlike “Low Men” there was nothing particularly surreal about this story, except for perhaps the never-ending card game going on in the men’s dorm. What I liked about the story was the way all of the characters, all of them, came to life. The story takes place on a college campus in Maine in 1966. But I couldn’t help picturing my college campus, and the dorms I lived in the first two years, in 1990 and 1991. Peter and Carol both worked in the dorm cafeteria. They worked the dish line. I did the same, working in various parts of the dorm cafeteria, dish room, server, custodial, you name it, for the better part of four years. “Hearts in Atlantis” was a good story in the holistic sense of the word. It was helped along by the fact that I could related to the dorm life in some way.
“Low Men” was narrated by William Hurt. Stephen King narrated “Hearts in Atlantis” and as I suggested in my earlier post, he got it just right. Listening to King read his own story in the audio book convinced me that all things being equal, he is probably the best possible person to read his stories. He knows better than anyone else what he meant, what he envisioned, the voices of the characters that spoke through him. This takes nothing away from Linsday Crouse’s reading. As a voice actor she is brilliant. But as a reader, I just loved what King did.
Stephen King also read the next story, “Blind Willie.” Much shorted than the first two stories, I really enjoyed this one. It was completely unexpected and yet, in some way, I’ve often wonder about the “Blind Willies” of the world and what they do when the sun starts to go down. It has even occurred to me that they do exactly what Bill Shearman did in this story.
I think “Why We’re In Vietnam” was my least favorite of the bunch. That’s not to take anything away from the story, but when good stories are in great company, even the good ones have difficulty keeping up.
“Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling,” the final story in the collection is the shortest of all of the stories. Bobby Garfield returns home for his old friend’s funeral. There is magic in this story. And although there are touching moments throughout most of these stories (“Why We’re In Vietnam” is probably the exception), it was this story that finally brought tears to my eyes. It was when Bobby read the inscription on the inside cover of the paperback, from Ted to Carol. Creative writing teachers have all kinds of fancy terms for what was at work there, but the plain truth is what was at work there was magic. That’s what a writer is capable of at their very best–working magic, weaving illusions and spells that turn tiny marks on paper into vivid, immersive, emotional experiences. And Stephen King pulled it off like a pro here.
Up next, the story collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes.