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.
LOW MEN IN YELLOW COATS (1960)
2.5 out of 5 stars.
Young Bobby Garfield’s mysterious new neighbor, Ted Brautigan, will be the most important figure in this most important summer.
“Low Men” is the longest story in Hearts in Atlantis. Length-wise, it could have been published on its own but content-wise, it needed more to justify its existence. Other than the Dark Tower elements (which amount to very little in the direct narration), it’s a painfully predicable story. A kindly elderly man befriends his 10-year-old neighbor. Of course the boy’s mother doesn’t trust the elderly man and – of course – a very awkward, misunderstood situation causes an accusation of sexual abuse, which drives the kindly old man away.
Bobby’s story is well-written on a functional level but it’s King-by-numbers – and verbose King, at that. “Low Men” feels like it’s wrapping up about two-thirds of the way through, then insists on stretching out what we already know is coming.
A compliment: Bobby’s mother, Liz Garfield, is an interesting, complex character. We can see, through Bobby’s eyes, some terrible qualities. But we can also see, through the narrative, that this woman is trying her best and has her own struggles. It would have been easy to make her Evil Mom or Sweet Mom but King’s put her realistically in the middle as Multi-Layered Human.
“Low Men” is the only Dark Tower story in the book (“Why We’re in Vietnam” might possibly slip back into it for a moment, but doesn’t add anything to DT mythology). If you’re reading Hearts in Atlantis merely for that, you can stop after this story.
The show had been The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, which Bobby didn’t understand but liked anyway, especially the part where Dorothy McGuire flopped back in a chair and showed off her long legs.
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is a 1960 American drama film, directed by Delbert Mann and starring Robert Preston and Dorothy McGuire. It was based on the play of the same name by William Inge.
Dorothy McGuire (1916 – 2001) was an American actress, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).
Goodbye Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Don Winslow of the Navy.
Don Winslow of the Navy was an American comic strip created by Frank Victor Martinek and distributed by the Bell Syndicate from 1934 to 1955. The title character was a spychasing Lieutenant Commander in Naval Intelligence. The comic strip led to a radio serial and film serials.
“If you try to borrow anything racy like Peyton Place or Kings Row, I’ll find out.”
Kings Row (1940) was a bestselling novel by American author Heinrich Hauer Bellamann (1882 – 1945). The novel exposed the hypocrisy of small-town life in the Midwest, addressing many social taboos. The 1942 film version starred Ronald Reagan.
Sully-John was waiting for them, working his Bo-Lo Bouncer for all it was worth.
A brand-name for a paddle ball.
He had two new books to read, a Perry Mason called The Case of the Velvet Claws and a science fiction novel by Clifford Simak called Ring Around the Sun.
The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) is the first book in the Perry Mason series, written by Erle Stanley Gardner (1889 – 1970). At the time of Gardner’s death, he was the best-selling American author of the 20th century.
Ring Around the Sun (1953) is a science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak. Its anti-urban and pro-agrarian sentiments are typical of much of Simak’s work. (“Ring Around the Sun” is also the name of a short sci-fi story by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1940. Simak’s story bears no plot similarity to Asimov’s.)
“Boris Pasternak said we are time’s captives, the hostages of eternity.”
“Pasternak. A Russian (…) of no account, I think.”
Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960) was a Soviet Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator. Pasternak’s first book of poems, My Sister, Life (1917) is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language. Outside Russia, Pasternak is best known as the author of Doctor Zhivago (1957).
From Pasternak’s poem “Night” (1957) (quoted from wikiquote.org):
You are eternity’s hostage
A captive of time.
He hardly heard Chet Huntley and David Brinkley gabbling the evening news.
verb – talk rapidly and unintelligibly; utter meaningless sounds.
Did the word “gabbing” came out from this? People misspeaking/hearing “gabbling” (?). I’m note sure; “Gab” has a slightly different definition:
verb – talk, typically at length, about trivial matters.
He was thinking of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson which they were supposed to memorize. “By the rude bridge that arched the flood,” it started.
“Concord Hymn” is a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson written for the 1837 dedication of the Obelisk, a monument in Concord, Massachusetts commemorating the Battle of Concord (1775). The full text can be found here.
“The Black Scorpion’s playing. Monsters galore throughout the store.”
The Black Scorpion (1957) is a black-and-white Mexican-American giant insect horror film. It was directed by Edward Ludwig and starred Richard Denning and Mara Corday.
Sully started away, then turned back. “Man, you know what? I saw a couple of weird guys when I came into the park.”
“What was weird about them?”
Sully-John shook his head, looking puzzled. “Don’t know,” he said. “Don’t really know.”
Danny and the Juniors were great.
Danny & the Juniors are a doo-wop and rock and roll vocal group from Philadelphia. Formed in 1955, they are most widely recognized for their 1958 hit single “At the Hop” and “Rock’n’Roll is Here To Stay.”
He knew that he was done with the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Rick Brant, and Bomba the Jungle Boy.
Rick Brant is the central character in a series of 24 adventure and mystery novels by John Blaine (a pseudonym for authors Harold L. Goodwin and Peter J. Harkins). The series was published from 1947 to 1968.
Bomba the Jungle Boy is a 20-book series of American boy’s adventure novels produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate under the pseudonym Roy Rockwood and published in the first half of the 20th century in imitation of the successful Tarzan series. A common theme of the Bomba books is that Bomba, because he is white, has a soul that is awake, while his friends, the dark-skinned natives, have souls that are sleeping (…what the hell, people). A dozen Bomba movies were also made.
“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.”
He was more than a little afraid of his mom, and this fear was only partly caused by how angry she could get and how long she could bear a grudge. Mostly it grew from an unhappy sense of being loved only a little, and needing to protect what love there was.
“Teenage” girls with their hair in rollers and their transistor radios playing Peter Tripp’s countdown.
Peter Tripp (1926 – 2000) was a Top-40 countdown radio personality from the mid-1950s, whose career peaked with his 1959 record-breaking 201-hour wakeathon (working on the radio non-stop without sleep to benefit the March of Dimes). For much of the stunt, he sat in a glass booth in Times Square. After a few days he began to hallucinate, and for the last 66 hours the observing scientists and doctors gave him drugs to help him stay awake. Tripp suffered psychologically. After the stunt, he began to think he was an impostor of himself and kept that thought for some time. His career soon suffered a massive downturn when he was involved in the payola scandal of 1960 (see also Alan Freed, who was mentioned in Christine, note ).
He liked to keep up with the columns as well, Stewart Alsop and Walter Winchell and such.
Stewart Alsop (1914 – 1974) was an American newspaper columnist and political analyst. Through his mother, he was a grandnephew of Theodore Roosevelt.
Walter Winchell (1897 – 1972) was an American newspaper and radio gossip commentator, famous for attempting to destroy the careers of people both private and public whom he disliked.
“Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees; the typist puts a record on the gramophone with an automatic hand.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“It’s my way of saying that it was a lot of years in a job that never seemed to mean much.”
“Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees” is the first line of T.S. Eliot’s “Sweeney among the Nightingales.” Sweeney was referenced by Joseph Heller in Catch-22 (note ).
“She smoothes her hair with automatic hand / And puts a record on the gramophone” are lines 255 – 256 in Eliot’s poem “The Fire Sermon”, a chapter in his work The Waste Land. (See The Waste Land wiki for more.)
Both poems are describing the mundane/everyday, in the line(s) quoted, which is what Ted is getting at. Maybe. King is often inspired by Eliot, especially when it comes to his Dark Tower series.
Moonlight (…) squared in four by the shadows of the window muntins.
noun – (United States) – a bar or rigid supporting strip between two adjacent panes of glass.
Bobby (…) told them about the great Maury Wills, who might set a record for base-stealing that would never be broken in their lifetime.
Maury Wills (b.1932) is an American former professional baseball player and manager. He played in Major League Baseball primarily for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959 through 1966 and the latter part of 1969 through 1972. He is credited for reviving the stolen base as part of baseball strategy. He is number 9 of “Top 10 career stolen bases by league” in the National League with 586 stolen bases. He is in 13th place of stolen bases in one season, with 104 in 1962.
Mrs. O’Hara’s dog Bowser barked on and on, roop-roop-roop, the sound lost and somehow dreamy, seeming more like something remembered than something happening at that moment.
One [poster] on the corner of Asher and Tacoma announcing a rock-and-roll show in Hartford starring Clyde McPhatter and Duane Eddy.
Clyde McPhatter (1932 – 1972) was an American rhythm-and-blues, soul and rock-and-roll singer. He was perhaps the most widely imitated R&B singer of the 1950s and early 1960s and was a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B. He is best known for his solo hit “A Lover’s Question.” He was also a member of Billy Ward & the Dominoes and The Drifters.
Adulthood is accretive by nature, a thing which arrives in ragged states and uneven overlaps.
Rising up from the speakers came the sound of Freddy Cannon: she comes from Tallahassee, she’s got a hi-fi chassis.
Frederick Picariello Jr. (b.1936), known as Freddy Cannon, is an American rock and roll singer, whose biggest international hits included “Tallahassee Lassie”, “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans”, and “Palisades Park.”
From some other window came the sound of The Platters: “Here, in the afterglow of day, We keep our rendezvous, beneath the blue.”
Lyrics from The Platters’ “Twilight Time” (a 1958 update of an older standard, written by Buck Ram and the Three Suns in 1944).
The song recurs in the novella “Hearts in Atlantis” (p.436 – 437), when Pete Riley and Carol Gerber have sex for the first (and only) time. In the very last line of Hearts in Atlantis, in “Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling” (which itself is the first line of “Twilight Time”), Bobby and Carol listen to The Platters – I have to assume, based on the title, that they are hearing “Twilight Time.”
If I wasn’t taking notes for this review, I wouldn’t have noticed the song pops up more than once.
“I want Flash Gordon. And be sure to tell me what Dale Arden’s wearing.”
Dale Arden is a fictional character, the fellow adventurer and love interest of Flash Gordon.
The two of them sat down to watch Bronco, with Ty Hardin.
Bronco was a Western series on ABC from 1958 through 1962. The program starred Ty Hardin as Bronco Layne, a former confederate officer who wandered the Old West.
Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr., known as Ty Hardin (b.1930) is a former American actor best known as the star of Bronco.
The hero was George Sanders (…). Bobby found him a welcome change from heroes like Randolph Scott, Richard Carlson, and the inevitable Audie Murphy.
George Sanders (1906 – 1972) was an English film and television actor, singer-songwriter, music composer, and author. He was in Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), All About Eve (1950) – which he won an Oscar for, and the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967). His suicide note read: “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.”
The film Bobby is seeing Sanders in is Village of the Damned (1960).
Randolph Scott (1898 – 1987) was an American film actor whose career spanned from 1928 to 1962. His most enduring image is that of the tall-in-the-saddle Western hero.
Richard Carolson (1912 – 1977) was an American actor, television and film director, and screenwriter. In the 1950s, he found a niche in the newly re-emergent genres of science fiction and horror, including roles in It Came From Outer Space (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Audie Murphy (1925 – 1971) was one of the most decorated combat American combat soldiers of World War II. After the war, he had a 21-year acting career, playing himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, though most of his roles were in westerns.
“He’d play that song by Jo Stafford, I can’t remember the name, and make Lennie turn up the jukebox.”
Jo Stafford (1917 – 2008) was an American traditional pop music singer and occasional acress. Her 1952 song “You Belong to Me” topped the charts in the United States and United Kingdom, the record becoming the first by a female artist to reach number one on the U.K. Singles Chart.
“I came from Teaneck.”
Teaneck is a township in Bergen County, New Jersey and a suburb in the New York metropolitan area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 39,776. The origin and meaning of the name “Teaneck” is not known.
“Play some catch or ring-a-levio or whatever it is you like.”
Ringolevio (also spelled ringalevio or ring-a-levio) is a children’s game which originated in the streets of New York City and it known to have been played there at least as far back as the late 19th century, when it was known as “ring relieve.” It is one of the many variations of tag. It requires close teamwork and near-military strategy.
The signed photo (…) of Clayton Moore in his mask.
Clayton Moore (1914 – 1999) was an American actor best known for playing the fictional western character the Lone Ranger on the television series and two related movies.
The little kids were playing ticky-ball.
The closest thing I can find to “ticky-ball” is tiki-taka, a style of play in football characterized by short passing and movement. I don’t think it’s the same.
Ancient Snap-Jack shoes covered with dirt from the baseball field.
The best information I could find on Snap Jack shoes is on craigcorvin.com.
From a January 10, 2011 post:
The Talon Shu-Lok fastener was used by several different shoe manufacturers, including Thom McAn, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They came to be known as “Snap Jacks,” “Mousetraps,” or “Grasshoppers” and were apparently prized in Rockabilly circles because musicians like Carl Perkins were photographed wearing them.
Corvin’s post has a couple of old ad photos, as well.