Low Men in Yellow Coats
Eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield discovers a world of predatory malice in his own neighborhood. He also discovers that adults are sometimes not rescuers but at the heart of the terror.
Hearts in Atlantis, King’s newest fiction, is composed of five interconnected, sequential narratives, set in the years from 1960 to 1999. Each story is deeply rooted in the sixties, and each is haunted by the Vietnam War.
In Part One, “Low Men in Yellow Coats,” eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield discovers a world of predatory malice in his own neighborhood. He also discovers that adults are sometimes not rescuers but at the heart of the terror.
In the title story, a bunch of college kids get hooked on a card game, discover the possibility of protest…and confront their own collective heart of darkness, where laughter may be no more than the thinly disguised cry of the beast.
In “Blind Willie” and “Why We’re in Vietnam,” two men who grew up with Bobby in suburban Connecticut try to fill the emptiness of the post-Vietnam era in an America which sometimes seems as hollow—and as haunted—as their own lives.
And in “Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling,” this remarkable book’s denouement, Bobby returns to his hometown where one final secret, the hope of redemption, and his heart’s desire may await him.
Full of danger, full of suspense, most of all full of heart, Stephen King’s new book will take some readers to a place they have never been…and others to a place they have never been able to completely leave.
Stephen King’s collection of five stories about ‘60s kids reads like a novel. The best is “Low Men in Yellow Coats,” about Bobby Garfield of Harwich, Connecticut, who craves a Schwinn for his 11th birthday. But his widowed mom is impoverished, and so bitter that she barely loves him. King is as good as Spielberg or Steven Millhauser at depicting an enchanted kid’s-eye view of the world, and his Harwich is realistically luminous to the tiniest detail: kids bashing caps with a smoke-blackened rock, a car grille “like the sneery mouth of a chrome catfish,” a Wild Mouse carnival ride that makes kids “simultaneously sure they were going to live forever and die immediately.”
Bobby’s mom takes in a lodger, Ted Brautigan, who turns the boy on to great books like Lord of the Flies. Unfortunately, Ted is being hunted by yellow-jacketed men—monsters from King’s Dark Tower novels who take over the shady part of town. They close in on Ted and Bobby, just as a gang of older kids menace Bobby and his girlfriend, Carol. This pointedly echoes the theme of Lord of the Flies (the one book King says he wishes he’d written): war is the human condition. Ted’s mind-reading powers rub off a bit on Bobby, granting nightmare glimpses of his mom’s assault by her rich, vile, jaunty boss. King packs plenty into 250 pages, using the same trick Bobby discerns in the film Village of the Damned: “The people seemed like real people, which made the make-believe parts scarier.”
Vietnam is the otherworldly horror that haunts the remaining four stories. In the title tale, set in 1966, University of Maine college kids play the card game Hearts so obsessively they risk flunking out and getting drafted. The kids discover sex, rock, and politics, become war heroes and victims, and spend the ‘80s and ‘90s shell-shocked by change. The characters and stories are crisscrossed with connections that sometimes click and sometimes clunk. The most intense Hearts player, Ronnie Malenfant (“evil infant”), perpetrates a My Lai-like atrocity; a nice Harwich girl becomes a radical bomber. King’s metaphor for lost ‘60s innocence is inspired by Donovan’s “sweet and stupid” song about the sunken continent, and his stories hail the vanished Atlantis of his youth with deep sweetness and melancholy intelligence. —Tim Appelo