Friday, January 3, 2014

Introduction / "Low Men In Yellow Coats"

Hello, Internet world! It's exciting to start a new blog because I haven't written anything that wasn't a narrative in so long. I'm a little rusty, so stick with me! :)

I used to have a Stephen King-centric blog, but I have, unfortunately, forgotten the URL. I tried to find it, but alas, I could not. It's a shame, too - I was pretty fond of some of the posts there (he says so humbly). Therefore, a new blog was necessary. This one won't be all Stephen King - I'll be writing about a variety of authors and their works (hence the list of my favorite authors on the right - I won't be sticking to only the authors on that list, either), I'll just be talking about Stephen King . . . oh, how does 85-90% of the time sound? He is my favorite, after all! Luckily, King's work doesn't stop with his novels. There are short stories, novellas, movie adaptions, screen plays, nonfiction, etc. and so on to discuss. It's almost impossible for any one for person to make a definite list of any and every thing Stephen King's name is attached to, and that's great. I'll never run out of things to post about!

As I said earlier, however, I won't be posting about SK all the time. That would get old for you and me in a hurry. One project I would like to begin is discussion of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series (remember those, 90s/early 00s kids?). I used to have them all but stupidly sold them in a yard sale many years ago, but I'm currently working on building the collection back up. I've almost acquired them all, too! Of course, those posts will mostly be sarcastic looks at them because their target audience is . . . well, 8-year-olds. Let's face it: they're pretty cheesy. But I have a certain fondness of the series due to reading them obsessively back in elementary school (so that's why I love Stephen King!), and I'm curious to see how they hold up a decade or so later. I have a feeling some of my old favorites (Welcome To Dead House, The Ghost Next Door, The Haunted Mask, You Can't Scare Me!) have probably held up decently enough because they're genuinely creepy stories (for Goosebumps, anyway). I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that I'll have to trudge my way through a few that shall remain nameless for now, but we'll see soon enough!

One more thing before you go, if you don't mind - I'd like to talk (type?) a bit about Stephen King's novella "Low Men In Yellow Coats", which comes from his 1999 book Hearts In Atlantis.

"Low Men In Yellow Coats" is the first in this book of five stories, and it might be my favorite ("Hearts In Atlantis" and "Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling" - which is where I got the name for this blog - are pretty close, though) because of the quick, concise way King draws his characters and pulls the reader into his story, which is a skill that by this stage in his career many readers felt he had lost. It's set in 1960 Harwich, Connecticut (yes, SK sometimes ventures out of Maine in his writing), and it evokes such a powerful feeling of nostalgia for the innocence of childhood and then losing said innocence (loss of innocence is definitely a running theme - if not the theme - throughout the entire book) that it kind of feels like I'm reading about my own childhood, which is something King manages to accomplish again and again in his writing - especially in this, "The Body", and IT

What, exactly, is this story about? One of the main stars is  Bobby Garfield, an 11-year-old. His best friends are Sully-John and Carol (even if she is a girl!). He lives with his sometimes-cold-all-the-time-distant mother, Liz, who constantly claims Bobby's father didn't "leave them too well off" when he died years prior. Bobby's mother works too much, and he's often alone at home in their rather crappy apartment until an interesting man moves into the apartment upstairs. That man is the other star in this novella - Ted Brautigan, mysterious reader of many, many books. I have to say, Ted is probably one of the coolest adult characters King has ever written. He almost always gets it right with kids, but it's a bit spottier with adults for some reason. Maybe that's because I haven't reached full adulthood yet, so I can't relate to some of King's grown-up characters, whereas I've had many experiences in my life that make me feel like I'm closer to the kid/kids in his stories. I dunno. 

Anyway, Ted and Bobby quickly hit it off, and soon Ted hires Bobby for a "special" job. Ted will pay the boy a dollar a week, and Bobby can't believe his luck! He's been saving up for a Schwinn bicycle because his mother simply "can't afford it"- or so she says (more on that later). This special job is to look for people. Men. Strange men that look out of place in Harwich. Bobby has lived in the small town long enough, Ted decides, that the kid would notice anyone that stands out. These men have something that Ted wants, and they're trying to find him. He's on the run from this strange men - the low men in yellow coats. What do they want from Ted? The only clues we're given (up until the part I've re-read, anyway, which is all I'm going to cover in this post), is Ted has a mental gift, and in one trance of many he accidentally goes into near Bobby, he mutters "All things serve the Beam." Hmmmm.... I'm sensing a Dark Tower connection! 

Some of my favorite quotes from this novella:

  •  "Hearts can break. Yes, hearts can break. Sometimes I think it would be better if we died when they did, but we don't." 
  •  "Anything with the power to make you laugh over thirty years later isn’t a waste of time. I think something like that is very close to immortality." 
  •  "Come to a book as you would come to an unexplored land. Come without a map. Explore it, and draw your own map.... A book is like a pump. It gives nothing unless first you give to it. " 
  •  "A book is like a pump. It gives nothing unless first you give to it. You prime a pump with your own water, you work the handle with your own strength. You do this because you expect to get back more than you give." 
  •  "What if there were no grownups? Suppose the whole idea of grownups was an illusion? What if their money was really just playground marbles, their business deals no more than baseball-card trades, their wars only games of guns in the park? What if they were all still snotty-nosed kids inside their suits and dresses? Christ, that couldn't be, could it? It was too horrible to think about." 
 This post was a bit too brief - sorry about that. The next post, which will discuss what happens in the novella in a bit more detail (specifically the latter half), character analyses, discussion of the Dark Tower connection, and more (jeez, I sound like a commercial or something) will probably be a bit longer. I'll write it when I have more time and when I've actually finished re-reading the novella! After that, I'll move on to the other novellas and short stories in this fine book, and then one could probably expect a post about the movie adaption of "Low Men In Yellow Coats", but that probably won't happen for a while. This is a book I want to take my time with and post thoroughly, because I feel like it's one of King's most important - it's about an entire generation's loss of innocence and the affect the 60s had on the children of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. This story is only one arc of five, and by the end they all come together to weave a narrative of time, mistakes, love, growing up and getting old. Oh, and there's some military/killing stuff, which is always fun. So yeah. It'll require some time and thought, but it'll be worth it!

"Sometimes when you're young, you have moments of such happiness, you think you're living on someplace magical, like Atlantis must have been. Then we grow up and our hearts break into two."

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