(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The stories of Hearts in Atlantis revolve around the Vietnam War and its impact on Stephen King’s generation, covering a wide range of that generation’s experiences.

“Low Men in Yellow Coats” sets the tone for all that follows. With his friends Sully-John and Carol, Bobby Garfield enjoys the summer of 1960. He befriends the new tenant in the third floor of his building, Ted Brautigan, who hires Bobby to keep an eye out for mysterious strangers. Bobby at first does not believe Ted about these “low men,” but that summer his innocence is taken away on many levels: He rescues Carol after she is beaten and her shoulder dislocated, discovers the truth about his mother and the hatred that she long harbored, and finds Ted is indeed on the run from a fantastic other world, tying intimately into King’s fantasy series the Dark Tower.

In “Hearts in Atlantis,” Pete Riley becomes involved with Carol at the University of Maine in Orono in 1966; the story of her beating influences his later decision to become active in the antiwar movement, symbolized by growing awareness of the peace symbol. The title not only is a metaphor for the romance that briefly blossoms but also refers to a manic ongoing card game tournament that threatens to overwhelm Pete and his dormmates during that time. Readers also discover that Carol later became involved with radicals and was involved in a bombing of a chemical laboratory that killed several people; Carol is...

(The entire section is 529 words.)