Stephen King’s collection of five stories about ’60s kids reads like a novel. The first is “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, about Bobby Garfield of Harwich, Connecticut, who craves a Schwinn for his 11th birthday. But his widowed mom is impoverished, and so bitter that she barely loves him.
Bobby’s mom takes in a lodger, Ted Brautigan, who turns the boy on to great books like Lord of the Flies. Unfortunately, Ted is being hunted by yellow-jacketed men - monsters from King’s Dark Tower novels who take over the shady part of town. They close in on Ted and Bobby, just as a gang of older kids menace Bobby and his girlfriend, Carol. Ted’s mind-reading powers rub off a bit on Bobby, granting nightmare glimpses of his mom’s assault by her rich, vile, jaunty boss.
Vietnam is the otherworldly horror that haunts the remaining four stories. In the title tale, set in 1966, University of Maine college kids play the card game Hearts so obsessively they risk flunking out and getting drafted. The kids discover sex, rock, and politics, become war heroes and victims, and spend the ’80s and ’90s shell-shocked by change. The characters and stories are crisscrossed with connections that sometimes click and sometimes clunk. The most intense Hearts player, Ronnie Malenfant (“evil infant”), perpetrates a My Lai-like atrocity; a nice Harwich girl becomes a radical bomber.