Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Hearts in Atlantis

Part one of "the audiobook experiment" turned out to be mostly successful. Tonight I finished Hearts in Atlantis.

I have to say it was only "mostly" successful because there were some frustrations. At first, it didn't seem as though my mind would accept listening to the story as opposed to reading it. I liked it, but it seemed like it just made me want to read the book, the way watching a movie based on a book often does. Beyond that, the main item of irritation came from the fact that the CDs themselves, borrowed from the library, weren't in very good shape. There were some skipping problems. Most were minor, and my CD player was able to pick its way through. Occasionally, a several-second segment would be totally unplayable. For the most part, this happened during non-essential parts of the story, and I've read Hearts in Atlantis enough times and know the story well enough that I was able to move on without worrying too much about it.

Then, however, I came to the very last disc. Hearts in Atlantis comprises five loosely connected shorter stories, and the last disc (#20) contains the last story. About ten minutes into it, the disc started freaking out. It sounded like William Hurt (the reader) had developed a major stutter, and also a memory problem as the disc would skip back to the last few seconds before the problem developed. This was a vital part of the story, and no matter how far I tried to skip ahead, the disc was still skipping. Eventually I had to abandon it. After I got home this evening, I just pulled my copy of the book out of the bookshelf and read the last story. It was a little strange, after listening to almost the entire story, but it was the only way I could finish it without missing a significant amount.

At any rate, I finished the story the old-fashioned way, but I did finish it. It's one of my favorites; one of those books that you wish could go on forever. I want to know more of the story. I want to know more about what happened to Bobby Garfield and Carol Gerber from the moment their paths diverged at the end of the first story to when they came together again in the last one, and I want to know where they went from there. I want to know what became of Pete Riley and Skip Kirk. That, I think, is the mark of a truly good book: when you're left wanting to know more, not about the story necessarily, but about the characters. With the books I like best, and I count Hearts in Atlantis among them, I come away feeling like the characters are old friends, and there is a feeling of loss that I won't be hearing from them anymore.

Of course, this is a Stephen King book we're talking about, and with King, you never know when old characters will turn up somewhere else.

This book is King's story about the Vietnam era, and I find it highly interesting that he chooses to address this topic by telling stories that, for the most part, don't even take place in the Vietnam era. The war itself is shown to us only in flashback form, which is somehow entirely appropriate. It's much the same for the war protests. Both the war and the protests figure prominently in the story, but they take place almost on the fringes of the story. It's an interesting way to deal with the topic, and I'm glad King took this approach. Let Tim O'Brien and others like him write about Vietnam directly; I think we get a different, but no less accurate, view of this period of time by seeing characters deal with it almost indirectly.

As much as Vietnam, I think this novel is about the passage of time. We see Bobby Garfield and Carol Gerber as children, and then again as adults, and we are struck just as they are by the enormity of all that has happened in the time in between. This is a topic that fascinates me as well, so it's the aspect of the book that interests me the most. It is awe-inspiring and, in the case of this story in particular, almost depressing to think of how things can change in a span of years, and the different tracks our lives can take.

Despite my affinity for the book, I haven't yet seen Hearts in Atlantis, the movie. The very idea of it amuses me, actually. The movie is based on the book's first story, which is called "Low Men in Yellow Coats" (and, I suppose, the last, which is "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling"). The book's second story is the title story, and is only loosely connected to the first. It'll be interesting to see how they justify keeping the title, or if they even bother. I'll probably take the movie out soon to watch it, perhaps even this weekend.

Now I move on to part two of the audiobook experiment, in which I move on to a book that I haven't read before. I'll have to get to the library sometime soon to see which lucky book will get my attention first.

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