The Institute

The Institute – Stephen King

Tim Jamieson stumbles into the sleepy South Carolina town of DuPray.  A former police officer, Tim works his way up the law enforcement ladder from glorified night watchman to cop proper – gun and all.  However, that’s the last we’ll hear from Tim before the story shifts focus.

Luke Ellis is a gifted child.  At twelve, Luke has outgrown what his specialized school can teach him.  Presented with the option of attending MIT as well as Emerson College in the fall, Luke eagerly anticipates the next chapter of his life.  That all changes when Luke wakes up one morning in a room not unlike his own.  You see, Luke isn’t just gifted in your traditional sense, he also carries a touch of telekinesis, which put him on the radar of some very bad people.  Aside from the lack of windows, there are a few small differences here and there that immediately jump out to Luke.  Before long, he finds out he’s been kidnapped and placed in a special institution with other gifted children.  Then, the experiments begin..

The Institute itself will draw comparisons to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.  It’s not like King is employing deep subtext here as he hits the nail on the head on more than a few occasions with Luke relating his own experience to Nazis performing experiments on their Jewish prisoners.  That said, the ways in which the inhabitants are treated probably shouldn’t seem so commonplace nowadays given that WWII occurred generations ago, but with the demonization of migrants in the current political climate, you can see how others are able to compartmentalize their minds to allow themselves to see fellow humans as being “less than”.  If you practice enough negative reinforcement, you can achieve anything!

If you follow King on Twitter, you’re well aware of his contempt for the current US president and the Republican party.  He takes Trump to task daily on his abhorrent behaviour, so it’s not surprising that he found some room to insert some jabs at Donald and his administration through the mouths of his characters.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to see this, but it felt very shoehorned in at times although I get what he’s doing by drawing parallels to the current situation at the US/Mexico border.

I’m glad to see King write a new book with kids fulfilling roles as main characters as it’s very much within his wheelhouse and something he hasn’t visited in quite some time (correct me if I’m wrong).  King can usually ride that line between adolescence and adulthood better than most anyone and The Institute is no exception.  The kids inside The Institute and their relationships with one another are the true driving force of the story.  It’s not “The Body” level stuff, but it kept me reading on.

Of course, this being King, I am usually more critical than most books I read – especially given his track record in recent years.  So, there were a few things that bothered me:

Tim Jamieson and the first forty pages or so that introduce him are largely irrelevant.  I assume they’re there to help add a certain level of stakes to what happens with the characters involved when Luke finally meets up with Tim, but the truth is there isn’t enough substance to Tim nor the citizens of DuPray to make me care about them when the shit hits the fan.

There is a rather big reveal that King unveiled in a different way than I wanted.  Rather than letting the air out slowly, he popped the balloon.  It’s hard for me to get in depth on this one as it would be a big spoiler.  Hopefully I’m not alone on this one.

I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the ending as it felt a bit too ambiguous.  King has certainly gotten softer and more optimistic as he’s gotten older and it’s hard to blame him given the state of the world right now.   The ending made sense in the scope of the story King was telling, but it felt messy and anti-climactic.

While The Institute is still a far cry from modern classics like 11/22/63, it’s one of King’s best efforts in a while.  It isn’t without its problems, but it didn’t have Holly Gibney in it and for that, I give it a favorable review.

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