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INCOMPLETE REVIEW PLEASE IGNORE
"Hearts in Atlantis" is one of Stephen King's most accomplished collections. This is in main due to the fact that it is not a horror collection. All too often King is pigeon-holed as a horror novelist but it is when he ventures away from the horror genre for which he is infamous that his writing comes to true fruition. Those who would argue look at the big screen success of "The Green Mile", "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Stand By Me". Completely removed from the trappings and clichés of the horror genre King seems to write more naturally, with more freedom and as a result with much more expression.
"Low Men In Yellow Coats"
In the first story King follows the life of a ten-year old boy growing up in the sixties. Leading a relatively mundane life and starved of affection from his widowed mother, Bobby longs for excitement and seeks this in the books he reads. When Mr Ted Brautigan turns up in the flat above Bobby, all scruffy with his possessions in paper bags Bobby's mother immediately dissaproves while Bobby is intrigued by this wizened old stranger. An odd friendship is struck between them were Bobby learns the difference between reading for fun and reading for the challenge. But why does Mr Brautigan have blank spells were he talks of mysterious figures known only as "the low men" and why is "tempus fugit" so true?
This novel for me is all about atmosphere and relationships. King puts great amount of description into the time in which Bobby lives and it is often he uses his own childhood experiences to create the sixties America to which we the reader are treated. Be it the Schwinn bicycle Bobby lusts after or the references to Kennedy the nostalgic feel is prevalent throughout. A familiar theme to King seems to be the importance of childhood friendships and this is explored throughout with Bobby's relationships with his pals and his coming of age via his friend cum girlfriend Carol Gerber. Those who have seen "Stand By Me" or read "The Body" will be familiar with these themes and wear them like an old coat. Those who are not will be relieved to hear this is not the be all and end all of this particular novel.
King placed great emphasis on the differences in relationships between Bobby and his mother and Bobby and his new found friend Ted Brautigan. Whereas Bobby craves affection from his mother and rarely gets it Ted Brautigan seems to show an almost fatherly concern for this lonely yet fiercely intelligent boy. It is a heartwarming experience watching their relationship develop made all the more poignant by a surprising twist. Indeed the twist to this novel is what makes or breaks it. Bobby is a very likeable, real character whose trials and tribulations will strike a chord with most of us. Similarly Bobby's mother's coldness is deemed understandable in light of her experiences and struggles and you feel a real empathy for both of them. In fact while it is a heartwarming experience to see Ted and Bobby's relationship it is heart-wrenching to watch Bobby reaching out to his mother and his mother wanting to, but being unable to respond.
If there was one thing that this story lacks it is a coherence. Undoubtedly well written its links to "The Dark Tower" series which were obviously intentionally incorporated are tenuous at times. It becomes harder and harder to believe Ted is anything other than the old man he is perceived to be which perhaps is the fault of the author. As a straight tale of human relationships this novel rivals that of any other but by veering off into realms of fantasy the novels credibility suffers.
However, perhaps King intends the reader to dismiss this as a fantasy piece? After all King makes a scathing reference to those who are to snobby to read outside the classics and others who stick to one genre. He seems to be challenging new readers out there to not dismiss him as a schlock horror writer and appears disappointed at some readers habit of dismissing "popular" fiction.