"The world of the story had become so vivid to him that this real one now seemed false and drab."
Hearts in Atlantis is, almost unbelievably, the first new-to-me Stephen King book I've read all year.* It's also only the eighth Stephen King book I've finished this year, which is why that fact makes more sense, but still. It's crazy. What it taught me was this: I can still be scared, or at least a little freaked out, by Stephen King books, as long as the story is completely unknown to me and is, you know, sort of freaky. I'm going to go right ahead and assume that not having my mum in close proximity might have had a tiny bit to do with this too, because, strong, independent woman though I am, when shit gets scary, it's just better to have your mum nearby.
Anyway. Hearts in Atlantis. It has, and I don't think I'm exaggerating here, the weirdest structure of any book I've maybe ever read. It contains 5 stories, all of them linked (however loosely) two of which (Low Men in Yellow Coats and Hearts in Atlantis) are roughly the same length and kind of the 'main' stories, and three of which (Blind Willie, Why We're in Vietnam and Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling) are pretty much short stories that still fit into the longer stories that come before them. I say it's a weird structure, and it truly is, but that didn't make it bad, just strange- they all still fit together well, and you can see the point of all the stories.
My favourite, and really the main story, is Low Men in Yellow Coats. Not only does it have a connection to The Dark Tower (and I know it does, only I can't fully remember how) but it really just covers what King does best- the confusing and sometimes dark nature of childhood combined with all its wonderful aspects, too. It's also, essentially, the story of an old man's friendship with a young boy in a time where that was still an ok thing, and the relationship between Ted and Bobby is really lovely to read about (Ted gives Bobby the gift of reading! It's the best), and almost as good only in the opposite way is the ultimately destructive relationship between Bobby and his awful, awful mother.
And then there are the Low Men themselves, extremely creepy and written in a way that actually, genuinely, had my heart beating a little bit faster, and my stomach crawling just a tiny bit. These guys are really sinister and frightening- it's not just the men themselves, but their giant, other worldly cars that give them away, and even writing about this is making me want to break out in a light sweat so I should probably stop. But trust me- they're very creepy, and introduced in a way that makes them seem dangerous, and power gaining, and just, noooooo. Scary. But EXCELLENT.
Hearts in Atlantis comes straight after LMIYC, and it really couldn't be more different. It has a couple of characters from the previous story, which allows them to be linked, but other than that, it's a fairly straightforward (by which I mean, nothing supernatural happens) story about being a college student in the late 1960s, and all of the growing awareness of the Vietnam War that that entailed. If I was comparing this to LMIYC, it wouldn't be a favourable one, but since it's really easy to view it as a wholly separate story (because it is one...) I actually found it really interesting in terms of what it might have been like to have been a college student at that time.
What it might have been like: a few students were maybe very politically active and involved in Vietnam protests from the very beginning, whereas a lot of other people maybe didn't care so much, until it felt impossible to them not to care anymore. There's also the other perspective of male college students having to care, because being in college was basically the only thing keeping them out of the military, and so good grades? Kind of a big deal. It was an interesting take on the whole Vietnam thing, and that's something which I can really say for the whole book.
I don't really have much to say about the three short stories- Blind Willie was probably the best of them, but only in how actually shocking and breathtakingly exploitative the titular character was, and Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling sort of wrapped up a couple of points from the other stories but wasn't much in itself. Blind Willie and Why We're in Vietnam both deal with more of the fallout from the Vietnam War, and to me, it felt like these were things King had wanted to write about for years, but maybe never really knew how, or when. With these stories, I think he does something really interesting, and something definitely worth reading.
So basically- I don't know if I liked this so much simply because I was just so happy to get my hands on some new-to-me King, or if it's a genuinely good book, but either way I really enjoyed it and I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't too. If nothing else, Low Men In Yellow Coats is well worth your attention, and after it, you're going to want to know what happens to its characters, so you will read on. And hopefully you'll get a tiny bit scared too. It's the Stephen King way.
*Technically, I finished Rose Madder this year, but that was literally on the 1st of January and I read most of it last year. Just to be, you know, accurate.