"Hearts in Atlantis" was my second audiobook. I'm hooked - I listen in the car, while I'm cooking dinner, and while I'm straightening up my classroom at the end of the day. If you have not tried listening to an audio book, DO IT! I admit I was a little nervous about it, thinking that I would zone out or be bored. Quite the opposite. I found myself sitting in parking lots waiting to find out what happened next.
"Hearts in Atlantis" is a collection 2 novellas and 3 short stories, all tied together with the same characters, taking place in roughly chronological order. The one character I can tell you is the link between all of the stories (and no, I'm NOT giving away anything!!) is Carol Gerber. She may not be in each story, but she's the link. Very well done.
Low Men in Yellow Coats
A coming of age story of Bobby Garfield. Not long after receiving his adult library card as a birthday gift, he meets the new tenant in his apartment building, Ted Brautigan. Bobby and Ted develop a close bond from the start. Ted offers to pay Bobby in exchange for keeping an eye about town for signs of the low men. Ted describes what to look for, Bobby sees them, and ignores them - he does not want to lose his new adult friend, and he is sure that if Ted knows that the low men are around he will leave. The story culminates after Ted looks after Bobby while Bobby's mother, Liz, is on a business trip.
This was a captivating story. Stephen King has a way of writing that is very personal. One of my favorite parts about his novels is the dialogue. He perfectly captures how a young boy living in 1960 would talk - not only to other people, but to himself. (OK, I've just run into the only drawback I've found so far about the audio book. I'd like to site an example but it's not as easy as simply flipping back to the scene I'm looking for. Oh well.) As a reader, you feel like you're a fly on the way, listening in on the conversation. You're in the scene. I remember laughing in the car (by myself - looking like a crazy person, no doubt) when Bobby decides that "ripshit" has a certain "ring to it" and wants to start trying it out in sentences. This just struck me as so funny.
The characters all seem very real - and the scenes are vivid. You understand Bobby - you feel a connection to him as a reader - or listener.
The concept of the low men is interesting, and when their characters are finally described in full, they are truly terrifying. It makes me want to reread the Dark Tower series. I suppose I did all of this out of order. This was by far my favorite of the short stories, and I believe it was the longest.
Hearts in Atlantis
This story was narrated by Peter Riley, a freshman at the University of Maine. Peter gets pulled into playing hearts in the student lounge of his dorm, and it becomes such an obsession with him he finds himself in danger of flunking out of school.
In this story, being at a university is an "Atlantis" - a safe haven, an isolation from Vietnam. Of course, many of the characters in this story are bringing themselves closer and closer to Vietnam with every round of hearts.
This story took me a little more time to get into. I'll admit it - it's probably because I liked Low Men in Yellow Coats so much. Also - and I'm shocked at myself - the foul language bothered me at first. Looking back, of course the character speaking all this smut does it because that's his character, and it shouldn't be any other way. I'm no Annie Wilkes - I swear with the best of them, so I'm a little surprised at myself, but I'm being truthful. Once I got past it, I loved the story. It was frustrating at times - you want to shake these boys and say "Wake up - who cares about this stupid card game!".
I found this story disturbing. It is a chronicle of a day in the life of Willie Shearman - December, 1983. He is a Vietnam veteran, and has his own version of what it means to "do penance."
Why We're in Vietnam
I wasn't as excited about this one, until the end. This story is a reunion between John Sullivan (otherwise known as Sully John, Bobby Garfield's childhood friend in Low Men in Yellow Coats) and another Vietnam Vet. They are attending the funeral of someone they fought with, and the year is (I believe) 1999.
The end of this story gave me the chills (the good kind!). I can't tell you why because it would give away the end, and then you wouldn't get the chills because you'd know already. You see my problem, don't you? At this point in the story, the reader - or listener - is seeing more and more how these stories are all connected.
Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling
The last. Bobby finally returns to his hometown after almost 40 years. It was touching. Aside from the first story, there wasn't a lot of supernatural elements to the story. I found the ending, the last story in particular to be haunting, and magically written. It was amazing to see how the stories tied together - once again, I don't want to say too much and give away the story.
If you're curious, there IS a movie - I have not seen it, maybe we need to do a blog entry on Book vs. Movie. (Book will win, I already know... it always does.) The movie version is only of the first story, Low Men in Yellow Coats. Check out the trailer.
This was a fantastic story! Read this book - or do like I did and listen to it. It's well worth it.