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HEARTS IN ATLANTIS by Stephen King Kirkus Star


by Stephen King

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85351-5
Publisher: Scribner

King's fat new work impressively follows his general literary upgrading begun with Bag of Bones (1998) and settles readers onto the seabottom of one of his most satisfying ideas ever. Set in fictional Harwich and semifictional Bridgeport, the story weaves five Vietnam-haunted small-town New England stories into a deeply moving overall vision. The five are: "Low Men in Yellow Coats," set in 1960 and at about 250 pages the longest; "Hearts in Atlantis," set in 1966; "Blind Willie," set in 1983; "Why We're in Vietnam" and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Failing," both set in 1999. The umbrella title fits well, with King showing us the lost, time-sunken continent of the late Eisenhower era, as hearts from the deep sea of that Hopperesque time slowly rise to the tormented surface of the present-day. Whether his characters are stock or not, it's impossible not to enjoy King's gentle ways of fleshing them out, all the old bad habits and mannerisms gone as he draws you into the most richly serious work of his career. Elderly Ted Brautigan, who may seem a bit like Max von Sydow, moves into a house occupied by Bobby Garfield, age 11, and his hard-bitten mother, Liz, a secretary for real-estate agent Don Biderman, with whom she's having an unhappy affair. Brautigan hires Bobby to read the paper aloud, gives him Lord of the Flies--and also strange warnings about low men in yellow coats and posters about lost dogs. Report any sighting of these! Ted also has attacks of parrot pupilitis, the pupils opening and closing as he stares at other worlds. Although some characters wander in from King's inferior occult Western Dark Tower series, their cartoony, computer-graphic effects making them seem in the wrong novel, this minor lapse fades before King's memory-symphony of America during Vietnam. Page after page, a truly mature King does everything right and deserves some kind of literary rosette. His masterpiece.