BLIND WILLIE (1983)
4 out of 5 stars.
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.)
The dark gray suit from Paul Stuart this morning, plus his favorite Sulka tie.
Paul Stuart is a men’s and women’s clothing brand. It was founded in 1938 in New York City by haberdasher Ralph Ostrove, who named the company after his son, Paul Stuard Ostrove.
Amos Sulka & Company is a maker of high-priced men’s wear. The last of its United States stores closed in early 2002.
Sulka was also referenced in Son of Rosemary (note ).
His briefcase – Mark Cross, not quite top-of-the-line but close – is standing in the front hall, by the coat tree where his topcoat (from Tager’s, on Madison) hangs.
Mark Cross is a retail leather goods chain. According to their site:
Mark W. Cross & Co. was founded in 1846 in Boston as a purveyor of carriage saddles and harnesses. The house became known simply as Mark Cross after its namesake’s death.
It closed its doors in the 1990s, but was resurrected in 2011.
I can’t find information about Tager’s on Madison. From the context, it must be another high-class clothing/supply store.
“And you’re doing okay, aren’t you? Probably not as good as those PTL fucks on the tube, but you must clear… what? A grand a day?”
The PTL Club (“Praise The Lord” or “People That Love”), later called The Jim and Tammy Show, and in its last days, PTL Today and Heritage Today, was a Christian television program first hosted by evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, which ran from 1974 to 1989. It was the flagship television program of the Bakkers’ PTL Satellite Network.
Sorry is a full-time job and more.
WHY WE’RE IN VIETNAM (1999)
After attending the funeral of a fellow soldier, Sully-John thinks of his time in Vietnam and all that came after.
3 out of 5 stars.
Other than an amazing, surrealistic scene on a highway, this story does exactly what you’d expect. Sully-John is haunted by atrocities in Vietnam – atrocities that, of course, he didn’t participate in, it was the other guys.
With so many narratives of Vietnam – and so many of them coming from artists who weren’t actually there – King takes a risk even trying this. I think he’s nervous. He writes Vietnam like someone who’s watched a lot of Vietnam war movies, making no attempt to challenge or explore the path already made by so many before him.
Again, like all of Hearts in Atlantis, the writing is better-than-average, there’s just not much in the story to hold interest.
[He] refused to believe that another group he admired, Rare Earth, was white.
Rare Earth is an American rock band affiliated with Motown’s Rare Earth record label (named after the band), which prospered from 1970 – 1972. Although not the first white band signed to Motown, Rare Earth was the first big hit-making act signed by Motown that consisted only of white members. Their cover of The Temptations “Get Ready” was their biggest hit, peaking at #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
When someone dies, you think about the past, the past, the fuckin past.
Come on, boys! he’d yell in that shrill voice of his, a voice Sully swore could cause nosebleeds and kill locusts on the wing.
“I never met a Vietnam vet who wasn’t having the veriest shitpull with his teeth.”
adjective – (archaic) – used to emphasize the degree to which a description applies to someone or something.
A St. Theresa of Avila Sodality dance.
Saint Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1562) was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation.
noun – a confraternity or association, especially a Roman Catholic religious guild or brotherhood.
It couldn’t be her; no one he’d known as a kid, no one he’d ever slept with, had been destined to die from injuries inflicted by a falling telephone, surely.
Those other fuckheads would have killed until their ammo ran out – wasn’t that pretty much what the men under Calley and Medina had done?
Ernest Medina (b.1936) is a former captain of infantry in the United States Army. He served during the Vietnam War and was acquitted in a court-martial of war crimes charges in 1971. He was the commanding officer of the unit responsible for the My Lai Massacre of Mary 16, 1968.
“Now he’s addicted to AA instead of tequila (…) He’s a GSR.”
General Service Representative, an elected service position in Alcoholics Anonymous.
“We discovered Richard Simmons, Scott Peck, and Martha Stuart Living.”
Scott Peck (1936 – 2005) was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author, best known for this first book, The Road Less Traveled (1978). The book is a description of the attributes that make for a fulfilled human being, based largely on his experiences as a psychiatrist.
Leather and neat’s-foot oil and sweat and grass.
Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle. “Neat” in the oil’s name comes from an old English word for cattle. Neatsfoot oil is used as a conditioning, softening and preservative agent for leather.
Bad news should always come after lunch, he thought. At least a person was halfway prepared for bad news after lunch. First thing in the morning everything left a bruise.
She had to be wrong, that was his first thought; people couldn’t die just after you’d seen them and talked to them, it seemed a basic rule, somehow.
Dieffenbaker thought the world would probably be a better place without old men (this revelation coming just as he was getting ready to be one himself).
HEAVENLY SHADES OF NIGHT ARE FALLING (1999)
3 out of 5 stars.
Bobby Garfield, now in his fifties, returns to the Connecticut town where he first met Ted Brautigan.
More an epilogue than a full story, but a suitable end to this thing. The main question we need answered is answered.
Troy Shondell was singing “This Time.”
Gary Wayne Schelton (1939 – 2016), known by his stage name Troy Shondell, was an American vocalist, who achieved a modicum of fame and recognition in the early 1960s. He became a transatlantic one-hit wonder with “This Time” (1961).
“My name is Denise. Like in the old Randy and The Rainbows song?”
Randy & the Rainbows are an American doo wop group from Maspeth, New York. The group was formed in 1962 and released the single “Denise” in 1963.
Jimmy Gilmer was singing about the sugar shack.
The Fireballs, sometimes billed as Jimmer Gilmer and the Fireballs, were an American rock and roll group, particularly popular at the end of the 1950s and in the early 1960s. Jimmy Gilmer (b.1940) was added to the group in the early 1960s. They reached number 1 on the Billboard chart with “Sugar Shack” in 1963.
The radio, still lying in the grass, played “Don’tcha Just Know it,” by Huey “Piano” Smith and The [sic] Clowns.
Huey “Piano” Smith (b.1934) is an American rhythm-and-blues pianist whose sound was influential in the development of rock and roll. In 1957, he formed a band, Huey “Piano” Smith and His Clowns. The Clowns’ most famous single, released in 1958, was “Don’t You Just Know It”.
Every story in Hearts in Atlantis is competent but, other than “Blind Willie,” none are compelling. Only recommended if you’re a King and Dark Tower fan (these groups are not always the same) who was born in the fifties.
Not one of those things, not two: all three:
1. Stephen King fan
2. Dark Tower fan
3. Born in the fifties
And people who like King specifically for horror? Skip it.
Next week, Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus!