©1999 Stephen King, All Rights Reserved, (P)1999 Simon & Schuster Inc., All Rights Reserved
"We now know what Stephen King, the master of horror, is afraid of. The Vietnam War...scares him so bad he won't let his hero act imprudently." (The New York Times)
"...Hurt skillfully evokes pathos from the story's fine detailing...." (Publishers Weekly)
I've listened to hundreds of recorded books over past twenty years. This is my favorite. I was never much of a Stephen King fan. This changed that. I am, however, a huge admirer of actor (and reader) William Hurt. As far as I know, this is only recorded book he's performed.
The book starts with "last summer" of young boy's childhood in the late 1950's. And Hurt's reading of every boy, girl, lonely parent, friend, scumbag and guardian angel is absolutely real. Stephen King also reads a central portion of book and he's just fine - Funny as hell in fact, when recounting "his" college years in the 60's and amazingly touching - when reading the chapter about Vietnam Vet/Street Beggar 'Blind Willy'.
It's not horror, not really fantasy - although there's a supernatural thread that runs through the story, which took me a little off-guard when it first appeared, but I completely got caught up in. It's one of many layers in this amazingly well written and performed book. They should all be this good.
While this is not one of King's horror books, it is truly him at his best! The book is thoroughly interesting, the characters well-developed and thought-provoking. At first the 5 separate stories don't seem related, but they are all pulled together by having at least one or two characters in common. The book made me wonder what exactly happened in Vietnam... what life was like for those growing up in the 60s and 70s... I really couldn't put the book down and listened even when my mom came to visit!
My taste differs from kid books to gory horror books.
THE LESS YOU KNOW, THE MORE YOU CAN BELIEVE
This book is two novellas and three short stories. It starts with LOW MEN IN YELLOW COATS. This is one of the best books, stories, novellas that King has ever written. I believe King is best when writing about young boys. Bobby is eleven, which is a golden age for most males. Young enough to still play with cars, have a slight interest in girls without the knowledge of sex, but old enough to start wondering about the future and his place in it. The character development of Bobby in this first novella is excellent and King's writing puts you in 1960 and Bobby's head. 1960,a time when people rode the BIG GREY DOG and just before Americans lost their virginity as a nation. Just before the Vietnam War and the turmoil that would change America forever.
In LOW MEN IN YELLOW COATS, King's imagination goes extreme, but builds up slowly. There are references to THE CRIMSON KING, THE REGULATORS, GUNSLINGER, BREAKERS and THE DARK TOWER. At first it seems like this is a story about a child growing up in the 60's with no weirdness, but slowly things start to change. King takes some of the mundane and turns it paranoid. You will wonder about lost pet signs, hopscotch, things hanging in power lines, and anything that seems normal at first, but maybe just a little different. I will repeat what I have said in many King reviews, King writes about people and the human condition and covers it up with horror to attract the reader. You think you are reading horror, but you are really reading about real people and their daily struggles.
CHICKEN SOUPY IN THE HEAD
The first novella is about 10 hours long, so the size of a regular novel. This alone makes the book worth reading. The next novella and shorts stories are totally different and may not even seem to fit. I believe King put these together to show where we were and how we changed and the expectations we had as a young nation. This is only my opinion. Many will wonder why these are together, as they are weakly connected and so different from the first story. The whole mood changes and there are no more low men in the rest of the stories. I enjoyed the second novella, Hearts in Atlanta. I was born in 1958 and am just a little young for this generation. I was of the age where I got to watch our nation change, but not really old enough to understand and be involved. I have a sister four years older then me and she was part of it. Everyone I know who was a teenager in the mid to late sixties was affected by those times. It was the time of the Sexual Revolution and a time when we first started questioning our government and the American way of living. King takes us through those times as college students. When it was first starting, even to the origin of the Peace Symbol. I love to play cards and Hearts is a great game. I can easily see how these students get distracted from their studies for a stupid thing like playing cards. Teachers were under additional strain, knowing that if they flunked a kid, the next year that kid would probably end up in a jungle in Vietnam. It was a truly exciting, but scary time. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, is not like the first story, but I felt a great read anyway.
LIFE WASN'T FAIR
The next short stories are, Blind Willie, Why We're in Vietnam, and Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling. Blind Willie is a five star read, but not even close to the first two novellas. I would give Low Men about seven stars. If you find you did not enjoy Hearts in Atlantis, then you are really not going to like these stories. You have already gotten your monies worth, so you may want to stop here. For me the last two stories were worth only four stars, but I can see how many would not like them at all. I also feel the younger generation might not be able to relate.
LORD OF THE FLIES
William Hurt narrates Low Men and one of the other stories. He is fantastic and also a big star from those times. Stephen King Narrates Hearts and two of the other stories. He talks out of his nose, but is still great to listen to. He is one of the few writers who can narrate his own work, putting a personal touch to the story.
The Prisoner was one of the best shows ever on TV.
I've been an audible listener for 5 years. This is still the best book I've ever heard. It sticks with me. I loved it. I'll probably listen to it again.
I haven't read much Steven King as horror isn't really my genre, but I so thoroughly enjoyed On Writing that I picked this up on a whim - and it is one of the most enjoyable listening experiences I've had. William Hurt's performance is fantastic, the stories a gentle melange of nostalgia, fantasy, history and horror. It enveloped me so much I sat in my driveway for the last hour. If you haven't experienced any Steven King before, forget what you think you know about him and pick this up. I'd recommend this title to anyone and everyone who loves a great story.
I have read or listened to most all of Stephen Kings work. This is the only audio book that I have listened to multiple times. (Five times now.) William Hurt's reading performance is what brings me back again and again. Without a doubt, the best narration I have heard! He brings the story to life! Thank You Mr. King..........Bravo William Hurt!
I knew and was prepared for how bad Stephen King is as a narrator but William Hurt sounded like it was his first time reading anything. Lots of pregnant pauses that should not have been there and little to no character differentiation. If the story had not been as interesting as it was, I would have stopped listening.
Now to the story...I cannot get enough of The Dark Tower and even though Roland doesn't appear here, some of the characters he touched are here.
I will recommend this book for the fantastic story but just beware of the 2 sets of fingernails continually scraping the chalkboard. It's hard to get used to but it can be done!
This is among the best Stephen King books, in my opinion. A fairly sublime blend of magic and melancholy, its an exploration of the 1960s through several intertwining stories with a sort of lyrical sci-fi touch that doesn't disrupt its seriousness (it lightly brushes against the Dark Tower series). Theres a sort of nostalgia and pathos here that you'll remember long afterwards. The movie only covers about 20 % of this. HIGHLY recommend. Not horror, FYI.
A rich, emotional story with a touch of supernatural. Described as a collection of five short stories, but reads like a more cohesive novel No frights but some horror; all about life and love. The best and most beautiful writing about a first kiss I've ever come across - listened to that segment over and over again. Especially resonant with baby boomers touched by the 1960's - but don't be hesitant if you're younger than that...the movie The Best Years of Our Lives is still great even if you're too young for WWII. Note on narrator William Hurt, he comes to you from a whole different and far superior level of art form. I have never heard narration so complex and nuanced.
Spend the credit, you'll be charmed and remember this novel always.
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