Stephen King mashes three of his favourite things together – small town America, the sixties, and The Dark Tower – and comes out with a collection of interconnected stories that add up to a novel.
Low Men In Yellow Coats, apart from having one of the finest titles for a story ever, comprises a full 50% of the book, and it’s the one that the film version of Hearts in Atlantis was based around. It’s a satisfying piece in and of itself, and it captures a lot of what King should really be remembered for: the capturing of a mood.
The rest of the stories are good, even if the concept of the second, the titular Hearts in Atlantis, is itself a complete mystery. King understands the nature of addiction, and he passes that understanding on to the reader, but one has to wonder precisely why a relatively simple card game could catch on like a fever and ruin multiple lives. It’s like the sixties themselves: you had to be there. Even the narrator, the only first person voice in the book, can’t quite explain the pull.
Because once Low Men In Yellow Coats ends, Hearts in Atlantis as a whole is King’s Vietnam novel. One gets the impression in 2017 that people have forgotten Vietnam, that the generation that it defined has moved on to other things – and those that weren’t alive for it have multiple other unpopular wars to focus on. The anger that King feels is justifiable and palpable, and it informs Blind Willie and Why We’re in Vietnam, which are, in their own ways, damning indictments of war in general. Sometimes one gets the impression that King is more moderate than progressive, but one knows precisely where he stands on this issue.
It all comes full circle with the final story, Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling, which acts as a coda to Low Men In Yellow Coats, but would not work without the intervening stories to fill in the years. There’s a certain perfect symmetry here that reflects King at his peak and it ties in so nicely with The Dark Tower (with the bonus of making enough sense to non-initiates) that Hearts In Atlantis, in total, becomes something close to a masterwork of both sentiment and literature.