Whenever Stephen King releases a new book, be it a novel, a novella, a collection of short stories or even a look at his craft, it’s a big deal. Thus, when it was announced that the Master of Literary Horror had a new book planned for this fall, fans became very excited, and the industry took notice. After all, Mr. King is one of fiction’s most popular and most successful authors for a reason.
The new book I referenced above is called The Institute, and it’s a bit different from the author’s regular fare. Then again, although he’s referred to as the King of Horror (and other variations of the term), it’s not the only genre he’s ever written, or become famous for. While Pet Sematary, IT, Carrie and The Shining may be the novels that first come to mind when you hear his name, for others it’s the fantasy series, The Dark Tower. Along the way, there have also been crime stories and mystery fiction, such as Joyland and The Colorado Kid.
Coming in at close to 560 pages (in hardcover form), The Institute is a story about special children, and is one that may make you think of Firestarter. It begins on an airplane, where a former decorated police officer decides to give up his seat so that an air marshal can join the crowded flight. In return, Mr. Tim Jamieson is given a refund, a hotel voucher and a decent chunk of change. This spur of the moment decision leads to more, which cause him to end up in a small town called Dupray, South Carolina. A town that would be an even smaller bump on the map if it wasn’t for its rail hub.
After sticking with Tim Jamieson, who decides to spend a bit of time in this newfound, country locale, things shift to Minnesota, where we meet 12 year-old genius, Luke Ellis. A gifted student, Luke has not only excelled at his specialized school, but has also been offered scholarships to two different universities. His plan to jump well ahead of his peers and others his age doesn’t go as planned, though, because he finds himself a target of a shadow operation that wants him for something other than his amazing intellect.
You see, Luke Ellis is more than just a smart and well rounded kid. In fact, you could say he’s special, or gifted, or even superhuman. His abilities are pretty minor, but he’s able to move certain things — like empty pizza trays — with his mind. This telekinetic power hasn’t gone unnoticed by his family, but they’ve done a good job of keeping it under wraps. At least, they seemed to be doing one.
Late one night, a vehicle pulls up outside of the Ellis family’s suburban home, and when its doors open they reveal a hit squad consisting of two men and two women, all of whom are carrying powerful guns. The group makes its way into the house, harms Luke’s unsuspecting parents, drugs him and then steals him away from everything he’s ever known. Their plan and purpose? To take him to the backwoods of Maine, where he’ll be prodded, tested and used as part of the Institute’s shadow program. An operation that kidnaps children with telepathic and telekinetic abilities, and uses them to serve its goal.
After awakening in a windowless room that has been dressed up to look just like his own bedroom, Luke meets a group of colourful characters, all of whom are also children, tweens and teens. There’s personality filled Kalisha, angry Nicky and small but powerful Avery, who’s said to be ten years old but looks and acts like he’s much younger. Others are there, too, and most of the kids in the Front Half of the building become quick friends and even quicker allies.
Part coming of age drama, part science fiction story and part tale of morality, The Institute is a really interesting and thought provoking book. One that is full of strong characters, some of whom you’ll love and others of which you’ll love to hate. It’s a story that is pure Stephen King, and even though it’s not a spooky tale about supernatural beings who go bump in the night, it remains a creepy and unsettling affair.
Luke is a very strong main character, and he’s someone who will stick with you for some time. He’s smart, deep, likeable and uses his intelligence throughout the book, in order to try to change his situation. The supporting cast is also quite strong, as is the idea behind the book. I did get flashes to another novel while reading this one, but the funny thing is that they were both released this year. The one I’m talking about is Josh Malerman’s Inspection, which is similar in some ways but different in others. Both were good reads, and are easy to recommend.
As is the case with quite a few of Stephen King’s many literary efforts, The Institute is a lengthy book and might be a daunting task for some. However, it’s well worth the time and effort. Is it flawless? No, but few things really are. At times, this novel drags a little, and it could be said that it’s a tad overlong. Still, fans will eat it up and wish for more, because there’s just something about a new book from the King. He truly has his own style, has his own way of speaking through text, and isn’t afraid to include some political jabs and humour within his works. That trend continues here, within a somewhat strange and surreal story that takes place inside of a secret facility where kids are locked up and tested upon because they’re special. A place where good behaviour is rewarded with tokens, which can then be used to purchase snacks, including cigarettes and wine coolers.
If you’re looking for something new and interesting to read this fall, The Institute is well worth adding to your short list of options. This is especially true if you’ve ever enjoyed a Stephen King book before. Us longtime fans don’t really need to be told that this is a thing worth reading, though, as most have likely had it pre-ordered for some time.
This review is based upon an early hardcover copy that we were provided with by the book’s publisher.