And When It Came – KAPOW – It Lit Up The Landscape For Miles Around

(Hearts in Suspension)

If you’re an ebook reader like I am, you should know that Hearts in Suspension isn’t available that way. I could only find it in hardback. It’s also not a story. Or maybe it is, but if so, it’s not a fictional story. Mostly.

It does include “Hearts in Atlantis”, which you may remember from the book of the same name. It’s the second story in that collection — you know, the one about the endless Hearts game happening in one of the dorms. But that’s not what the book is really about. Hearts in Suspension also contains an essay by Stephen King and a bunch of essays from people who know or knew Stephen King during this time in his life. The book, like “Hearts in Atlantis”, is really about the 60s, and about Vietnam, and about counterculture. And about Stephen King’s place in that, largely while he was at the University of Maine.
It doesn’t contain anything surprising. At least, I don’t think so. Stephen King’s essay contains frank anecdotes about his drinking and how it was a problem at the time, but he’s written about that so often that even if the anecdotes were new, the information really wasn’t. They don’t make him look good… which kind of does make him look good, to be honest. I’m someone who is really hesitant to be a serious fan of much of anyone these days. The constant milkshake ducking of everyone makes me anxious. You know, you declare yourself a fan of someone, and boom! The next day, they turn out to be a rapist. Or a racist. Or a wife beater. Or… you get the idea. I don’t want to find myself in a position where I have to decide whether to defend a strong preference for a person or publicly disavow them — I’d rather deal with my feelings about a famous person’s skeletons in their closet privately. But with Stephen King — look, no one is denying the man has flaws. But he doesn’t deny it either, and he’s so straightforward about some of the worst stuff that I feel fairly comfortable that he’s not going to suddenly be revealed to be keeping sex slaves in the basement or something. Plus, he’s evidently capable of learning from his mistakes — he got his addictions under control, his portrayals of minorities and women have improved, and his books have become more inclusive — mostly. The ability to learn and grow that way is starting to seem increasingly rare, so I want to support that. None of us are perfect. But hopefully, when we learn better, we do better, right? Stephen King seems to.

The essays from his contemporaries support these conclusions, more or less. These people describe King in about the way you would expect. I noticed he was called gentle a few times. There are comments about him being angry or maybe looking angry — having strong feelings about the general political and social climate of the 60s — but never about him acting angry or violent. All of that seems to have gone into his books. Rather, he’s described as generous, kind, creative, driven, and generally an impressive person. All of these seem like perfectly reasonable descriptors based on what I know — but also, what else is it going to say? I suppose it’s possible someone wrote an essay describing him as a raging asshole, but it wasn’t included, and why would it have been?

The book is mostly a snapshot of a particular time period for the country and King. Vietnam and the 60s aren’t a particular interest of mine, but King is, obviously, and I also like history things generally, so I enjoyed reading it. The title quote I pulled from this book comes from the final essay, describing King’s talent and his finally breaking through. I loved it, which is why it’s the title quote. It may be a bit odd to describe a horror writer’s talents as lighting up the landscape… but they do, don’t they? Whatever else he may be, King isn’t a nihilist generally. I can think of a few books that fall into that category — most of the Bachman collection and Revival — but there’s always sunshine in the corners of the darkest stories (and I think I stole that phrase, or the general idea, from King himself). There’s usually a hero; there’s usually hope. We consume horror to deal with real-life horrors that are difficult to face, and I know that I personally have found the hope I needed in these stories at different times. They brought the light to me. So yes, I can get behind the idea that he lit up the landscape.

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