“Hearts in Atlantis” (Post 3/3)


Hearts 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 2/3


BLIND WILLIE (1983)

4 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Well-to-do Vietnam veteran Billy Shearman goes into the city each morning to beg for money as poor Blind Willie.

“Blind Willie” is the strongest (and, at fifty pages, one of the shortest) stories in Hearts in Atlantis. It’s haunting and evocative and leaves us wondering without feeling cheated.

The connections King has been building between these stories finally pays off. In “Hearts in Atlantis,” Carol Gerber (and mentions of Sully-John, Bobby, and Rionda) connected back to “Low Men.” Now, the main character in “Blind Willie” is shown to have played a pivotal role in “Low Men” and also served in Vietnam with a character from “Low Men” and a character from “Hearts.”

These links are made without leaning too heavily on the previous stories and without seeming too coincidental. This sort of thing could easily feel soap-opera but King has created a solid reality.

King also plays with different narrative styles through Hearts in Atlantis, which helps distinguish each story while they work to make a whole. “Low Men,” “Why We’re In Vietnam,” and “Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling” are in 3rd person, past tense. “Hearts in Atlantis” is in first person, past tense. “Blind Willie” is 3rd person, present tense. (As a rule, I’m not a fan of present tense, but King is the best at it of any author I read. He uses it so unobtrusively that it usually takes me twenty or thirty pages to even notice.) Continue reading

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“Hearts in Atlantis” (Post 2/3)

 


Hearts 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 3/3


LOW MEN IN YELLOW COATS (cont.)

[34] References:

Cosmic Engineers, by Clifford D. Simak; The Roman Hat Mystery, by Ellery Queen; and The Inheritors, by William Golding.

(p.194)

Cosmic Engineers (1950) is a science fiction novel by American author Clifford D. Simak. The novel was originally serialized in the magazine Astounding in 1939. The plot concerns a group of earthlings who are awakened from suspended animation by aliens trying to prevent the collision of two universes.

The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) by Ellery Queen is the first of the Ellery Queen mysteries.

“Ellery Queen” were two cousins (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee) who wrote, edited, and anthologized detective fiction under the pseudonym of Ellery Queen. Their main fictional character, who shared the same name, is a mystery writer and amateur detective who helps his father, Richard Queen, a NYC police inspector, solve baffling murders.

(All this time, I’ve thought Ellery Queen was a female detective.)

The Inheritors (1955) is a work of prehistoric fiction and William Golding’s follow-up to Lord of the Flies (1954). Continue reading

“Hearts in Atlantis” (Post 1/3)

Hearts 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/3

Post 3/3


Stephen King’s 1999 novella/short story collection.

 3 out of 5 stars (average for the collection).

Times Read: 2

Seen the Movie: No

The Overarching Plot:

Three childhood best friends take different paths through the 1960s, their lives forever connected by a man with links to the Dark Tower.

Yes. The Dark Tower. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Knowledge of the Dark Tower isn’t a prerequisite to read Hearts in Atlantis. In fact, die-hard DT fans may be disappointed that the link between the works is so thin.

The focus (thesis?) of Hearts in Atlantis is the baby-boomer/Vietnam generation. The pop-culture references come often and with such significance that I (Gen X, here) was kept at an emotional distance from the characters. King always likes to weave timely events into his stories but you can usually keep a grip on things even when unfamiliar with the reference. Not here. King relies on the references to create meaning; if you don’t have nostalgia for (or a working knowledge of) The Platters’ “Twilight Time,” or a spate of other old time hits, there are going to be several hollow scenes for you.

Weaving music through a film can create an emotional atmosphere but simply name-checking songs falls flat on the page. King knows this – he chose with Hearts in Atlantis not to care. This books is for his generation. The message seems to be: If you don’t understand, it’s not for you. Continue reading

“The Ides of March”

 

 

Ides 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Thornton Wilder’s 1948 historical, epistolary novel. I read a paperback edition without the now-standard Kurt Vonnegut introduction. I wonder what old Kurt had to say?

2 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Intrigue, gossip, and plotting in Rome told through letters in the year leading up to Julius Caesar’s assassination.

The climactic event of The Ides of March is right there in the title: Caesar’s going to die. Wilder’s task is to make the journey interesting. Great books are written around fictionalizing historical events: Don DeLillo’s Libra and Stephen King’s 11/22/63 come to mind, though I’m more familiar and interested in Oswald and JFK’s assassination than I’ve ever been in Caesar.

Therein lies problem one: I have no interest in this book’s content, only in the author. I bought it for Wilder’s name (Bridge of San Luis Rey having won my heart), so a piece of the blame for the 2-star rating is firmly on me.

Problem two, closely related to problem one: Wilder assumes that his reader is interested in his topic and bringing their own historical knowledge to the party. On principle, I refused to look up any of the historical figures in The Ides of March while reading. My challenge to Wilder was to see if he had created a compelling standalone narrative. (He did not.)

His characterizations are fantastic; Clodia and Caesar are especially fascinating. Wilder creates multi-faceted characters, showing us the many ways an individual can be seen. Even when the views seem to contradict, we understand why everyone feels the way they do. We can agree with someone for hating Caesar, then agree with another for loving him.

But I don’t know the history of these people and by the end of The Ides of March, I was left with more questions than answers. Characters that seem hugely important are never seen on-screen (Lucius); abruptly kicked out of the narrative with unexplained fates (Pompeia); built up, then given no resolution (Clodia and Clodius; Cleopatra and the son she claims is Caesar’s). None of Wilder’s conflicts are resolved in the text. Again, a book like this has to be able to stand on its own.

Wilder also uses an experimental form that didn’t work for me. The Ides of March is told in four parts. Each part covers a longer amount of time than the one before, while encompassing the one before. That sounds insanely confusing, so just imagine a book taking place in 2016 divided like this:

Part 1: June – July 2016

Part 2: May – August 2016

Part 3: February – October 2016

Part 4: January – December 2016

As a concept, it’s intriguing. In execution, it presents a problem of false climaxes without resolution. By Part 4, I was tired to treading over the same ground and getting nothing for it.

(Though, I love Wilder for trying. Especially if it influenced authors like David Mitchell – see Cloud Atlas for a similar idea done almost flawlessly.) Continue reading

“Gwendy’s Button Box”

Gwendy

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]


Stephen King and Richard Chizmar’s 2017 novella, published as a stand-alone hardcover. I borrowed it from my friendly public library. Visit yours today! (Seriously. Go to your library.)

2 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

12-year-old Gwendy receives a mysterious box from a black-suited stranger. The buttons on it give her the power to destroy, the gifts from the levers make her flawless.

This might be more short story than novella. The page count of 164 is padded with blank pages between chapters (chapters which are sometimes as short as a half-page), large double-spaced text and illustrations (which, admittedly, were pretty awesome and my favorite part of the book).

Anyone familiar with speculative fiction is going to immediately see similarities with Richard Matheson’s short story, “Button Button” (1970) (it’s really good. Read it.). King isn’t trying to pull a fast one. He loves his Matheson and wouldn’t try to rip-off or cheat. But the fact remains that Matheson already nailed the set-up of a box with death-buttons. If King wanted to tread the same ground, he needed to do something more than adding buttons to the box.

Continue reading

“A Midnight Clear” (Post 2/2)

Midnight Clear 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


 

[25] References:

God, we’re ugly; dirty, gangling, baggy; shuffling in a hunching crouch like animals. We’re walking, talking Bill Mauldin cartoons or van Gogh potato eaters.

(p.54 – 55)

Bill Mauldin (1921 – 2003) was an American editorial cartoonist who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work. He was most famous for his WWII cartoons depicting American soldiers, as represented by the archetypal characters Willie and Joe. He started his cartoons while in the 45th Infantry Division.

The site awon.org has several examples of the Willie and Joe cartoons.

The Potato Eaters (1885) is an oil painting by Vincent van Gogh. (See here.)

[26] Reference:

We square our mattresses around the fire and spread the quilts over them. We put fart sacks on top.

(p.56)

Military slang for a bed or sleeping bag.

[27] Some authors sneer at semicolons (Vonnegut), some use them as tools of beauty and clarity (Capote), some overuse and muck up their text in the process:

I crank the phone and tell Shutzer I’ll phone on the hour; I’ve borrowed his watch. I can tell the game’s already started: Stan talks to me as if I’m interrupting; I’m only the war now, getting in the way.

It’s beginning to fall dark fast; the reddish parts of deciduous trees are drifting toward purple; shadows under the pines are almost blue black.

(p.62)

Wharton would have done himself a favor to use more periods. Let some thoughts stand on their own to give them weight. (“It’s beginning to fall dark fast. The reddish parts of deciduous trees are drifting toward purple. Shadows under the pines are almost blue black.”)

Continue reading