Hearts in Atlantis
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First edition cover
|Cover artist||Phil Heffernan|
|September 14, 1999|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Hearts in Atlantis (1999) is a collection of two novellas and three short stories by Stephen King, all connected to one another by recurring characters and taking place in roughly chronological order.
The stories are about the baby boomer generation, specifically King's view that this generation (to which he belongs) failed to live up to its promise and ideals. Significantly, the opening epigraph of the collection is the Peter Fonda line from the end of Easy Rider: "We blew it." All of the stories are about the 1960s and the war in Vietnam, and in all of them the members of that generation fail profoundly, or are paying the costs of some profound failure on their part.
Low Men in Yellow Coats
The first and longest part, Low Men in Yellow Coats, takes place in 1960 and revolves around a young boy, Bobby Garfield. He lives in Harwich, Connecticut, with his mother, Liz, a widow. He comes to befriend a man named Ted Brautigan who Bobby comes to find out possesses psychic abilities. Ted appears in some way connected to the Dark Tower and confesses to Bobby that he is being stalked by "low men" who work for The Crimson King. Although Bobby agrees to let Ted know when he starts seeing "lost pet" signs that indicate that the low men are near, Bobby says nothing when he eventually starts seeing them for fear of losing his friend.
One day, Bobby discovers his friend Carol has been beaten by three bullies with a baseball bat and left in a grove of trees. He takes her to his apartment, where Ted has to remove her shirt in order to set her dislocated shoulder. Liz comes home (herself having just been violently raped at a real estate seminar) and misunderstands the situation, thinking that Ted has been molesting Carol. She eventually calms down and takes Carol home. Suspecting that his mother has told the low-men of Ted's whereabouts, Bobby catches up to Ted just as they are about to take him away. Bobby is given the choice to go with Ted (wherever that may be) but decides to stay, though he despises himself for his choice.
After leaving Harwich with his mother and twice being put in a juvenile detention facility, Bobby receives an envelope from Ted filled with red rose petals (the ones which surround the Dark Tower). He knows that Ted is once again free of the low men.
"Hearts in Atlantis"
The next part of the book, Hearts in Atlantis, takes place in 1966. Peter Riley, a Freshman at the University of Maine, gets addicted to playing Hearts in the all-male dormitory where he lives. Although their student draft deferments have shielded them from serving in the Vietnam War, Peter and the growing number of students addicted to the game (led by student Ronnie Malenfant, who introduced the addicting game to the dorm) put themselves at risk as their studies suffer.
Peter eventually meets Carol, Bobby Garfield's childhood friend. Carol herself uses student activism as an escapist addiction of her own. Although they fall in love, Carol comes to announce that she will be leaving school. She explains that her decisions are forever influenced by the help that Bobby had given for her. She and Riley make love for the first time in his car. The next morning, she leaves a note warning him to stop playing Hearts.
When Stokely Jones, a disabled student activist (who specifically asks for a third floor dorm room, in spite of being on crutches), slips and falls in a rainstorm, Peter is disturbed by the strange way he and the other boys laughed at Jones's misfortune. He finds he is shaken from his Hearts addiction and resolves to turn his grades around. Shortly afterward, Jones is accused of having sprayed "FUCK JOHNSON" on a campus wall, with the dormitory floor proctor reasoning that the peace signs accompanying the message lead to Jones. However, Peter and the others point out that they, too, have been toting peace signs, undermining the accusation and saving Jones from punishment.
Peter barely passes his classes and receives a package from Carol containing a newspaper article of a protest she participated in.
This short story was originally published in the October 1994 issue of Antaeus, and in 1997 was published as part of King's limited edition collection Six Stories. For its inclusion in Hearts in Atlantis, the story was heavily revised.
Willie Shearman is a Vietnam veteran who lives in Connecticut, but sits in a particular sidewalk location in downtown New York City each day. He appears to have a somatoform disorder, becoming blind every afternoon at the time of day that he was caught in a firefight and temporarily blinded. He believes that his blindness is a form of penance for his involvement in the childhood beating of Carol (from Low Men in Yellow Coats) and continuously writes apologies to her in notebooks that he carries around. Willie also keeps a scrapbook about her: her involvement in activist groups became increasingly militant under the guidance of a Svengali-like leader name Raymond Fiegler (a name with the initials R.F., suggesting that he is Randall Flagg). The group became responsible for a bombing at a recruiting office, giving Carol the name "Red Carol" (though she may have tried to stop the bomb). Carol was believed killed when their headquarters was raided and the building accidentally set afire.
At the end of the day, Willie's sight returns, signifying it is time to return home to his suburban lifestyle. The story ends just as he gains inspiration for how to deal with the policeman he's been bribing to keep from getting arrested.
"Why We're in Vietnam"
Two veterans, John Sullivan (another childhood friend of Bobby Garfield's) and a man named Dieffenbaker reunite at the funeral of a third. They revisit an incident that almost escalated into a My Lai-type massacre: stressed by the effort at rescuing survivors of a helicopter crash, Ronnie Malenfant (who first appears as another Hearts player in Hearts in Atlantis) vows to burn a village in Dong Ha as a message to the enemy. When he begins stabbing a woman with his bayonet, Dieffenbaker has another soldier near Malenfant shot to stop the impending massacre. Later, Sullivan is gravely wounded. When he is airlifted out of combat, he sees the old woman who had been stabbed ("mama-san") sitting in the chopper with him, a hallucination that has continued in perpetuity.
A recurring theme of the conversation between Sullivan and Dieffenbaker (as well as the aged Peter Riley) is the growing sense between the two men that the various characters of their youths (save Carol) "sold out" in various ways to the allure of materialism and conformity. By the early 90's, Stokely Jones is now an activist attorney, who seems to love being on TV more than the causes he fights for. Malenfant meanwhile has become a religious nut after his experience in Alcoholics Anonymous. However, the basic life patterns set in youth appear to still hold true: Stokely is still fighting for good causes while adamantly refusing to let his disability hinder him. Malenfant is still strongly implied to be as detestable an older person as he was in the earlier parts of the book, and not genuinely sorry for his role in the Dong Ha massacre.
During the drive home from the funeral, Sullivan is caught in a traffic jam. Things then begin to fall from the sky: cordless phones, a grand piano, appliances, and a long yellow coat like the "low men" wear. He is struck by one more object, and picks it up to discover it is Bobby Garfield's Alvin Dark glove. Mama-san, glowing brightly, speaks for the first time, saying she will keep him safe. He abruptly finds himself back in his car. All objects which fell from the sky are gone, except the glove, which Sullivan wears on his hand. Sullivan grows very tired and closes his eyes.
"Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling"
In "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling", Bobby Garfield returns to his hometown, after almost 40 years, to attend John Sullivan's funeral and finds closure to his relationships with Carol Gerber and Ted Brautigan.
Bobby Garfield returns to Harwich to attend John Sullivan's funeral, who died in his car stuck in a traffic jam shortly after hallucinating household objects (symbols of baby boomers' growing materialism) falling from the sky in the previous chapter. Bobby also visits the park where he came upon Carol Gerber with her injured arm. In the park, he finds his old friend Carol, alive but scarred and burned. She says that she now goes by the name Denise Schoonover. Bobby reveals that he had come because Sullivan's probate lawyer sent him his old Alvin Dark fielder's mitt with his current address in Ted's handwriting. He then produces what was in the glove: the copyright page from Lord of the Flies, showing that although it came from the 1960 edition, it is still brand new. On it is written a message for Carol from Ted ("Tell her she was as brave as a lion") and the equation she had written for Peter Riley on his copy ("(Heart) + (Peace Sign) = INFORMATION") in "Hearts in Atlantis."
Charles de Lint praised Hearts in Atlantis as "the Great American Baby Boomer Novel", saying that, "when he's at the top of his form, as he certainly is here, he [King] can be as provocative and inspired as <insert your favorite literary author here>."
Low Men in Yellow Coats and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling" formed the basis of a 2001 film entitled Hearts in Atlantis, starring Anthony Hopkins as Ted Brautigan, Anton Yelchin as Bobby Garfield, Mika Boorem as Carol Gerber and Hope Davis as Liz Garfield. Major story elements are common to the film and the story, but many of the details were changed. In addition, all the references to the Dark Tower were removed and the final destinies of the characters, revealed in the latter stories of the original novel, are excluded. A further consequence of the changes is that the film's title is completely impenetrable to those unfamiliar with the novel, although a snatch of dialogue attempts to remedy this: Ted remarks that childhood is a lost city like Atlantis.
Connection to King's other works
The town of Derry is mentioned several times to be near the University of Maine. Derry is a recurring setting for King's novels and short stories.
'The Regulators' are mentioned, and appear in several stories linked with the Dark Tower universe.
Insofar as The Dark Tower series' overall plot is concerned, it is revealed in the seventh book that Ted is essential to the Crimson King's quest to break the beams that hold the Dark Tower up, which in turn holds the universe together.
One of the bullies who beat Carol, Harry Doolin, shares a surname with minor characters in Wolves of the Calla, Molly and Eamon Doolin.
Raymond Fiegler, who is identified near the novel's end as leader of an activist group when he prevents Carol Gerber from retrieving an unexploded bomb on a college campus, is very likely another alias of Randall Flagg, a recurring villain in many of King's works. King never identifies Fiegler as Flagg, but Christopher Golden and Hank Wagner suggest in The Complete Stephen King Universe that there is little doubt Fiegler is Flagg. Golden and Wagner cite evidence such as Fiegler's ability to make himself appear "dim" (an ability shared by Flagg in Eyes of the Dragon), his manipulation of Carol Gerber and her activist friends and Flagg's frequent use of aliases (usually with the initials "R.F.")