Monday, August 8, 2016

Not As Expected

Finished Stephen King's Hearts In Atlantis a couple of days ago and found myself very much taken surprise by the development of the narrative. The last time I posted about it, towards the end of July, I was reading what I assumed to be a novel. I must say I'd read something somewhere that classified the book as a collection of short stories but that seemed to me obviously incorrect. So when I moved onto the second section, the part actually entitled Hearts In Atlantis, although the sudden switch to a first person narrator was slightly disconcerting, I thought the story was continuing with a switch of perspective. The fact that one of the characters from the first part played a role in the second added to my sense of reading a novel. In fact, I was wondering whether King had got himself into the same kind of mess he did in Christine in which the switch from first to third person, and then back again, was downright clumsy, coming about as it did from the dictates of the plot - though I couldn't see anything in terms of plot that might dictate a switch of perspective in Hearts. In fact, I couldn't see any linking of plot at all, for the simple reason there wasn't one.

It turned out that Hearts In Atlantis is a sort of collection of stories, but these are stories which vary considerably in length and style, whilst maintaining a focus on the same very broad group of inter-associated characters. The fact I failed to pick up on this until I was around the halfway mark is an indication of how dumb I can be sometimes as a reader, but was also enjoyably disorientating. I had no idea at all where the narrative was heading and even had to re-read the ending of the first section in order to grasp the fact it was a kind of ending. The first section is the only one, by the way, to feature some sort of supernatural apparatus and I'd sort of been expecting that this would be fleshed out in some detail. Must say, I'm glad it wasn't and that King settled for exploration of the rather more real horrors of the American experience in Vietnam, though not in an entirely head-on manner.

I'm not sure that the book as a whole really coheres, but that didn't matter to me. I was entirely, wonderfully hooked by the whole thing. Yes, it was more than a little overly nostalgic and distinctly sentimentally contrived at times, but as a meditation on the sixties and a partial portrait of that generation of American youth who grew up protesting the war in Vietnam it evoked very strong feelings in this reader.

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