Stephen King | September 2019
In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”
In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.
Since I started my reading challenge in 2018, reading King has been pretty hit or miss for me. I started with a short backlog of his books to read, mostly short story collections, written post Kings near fatal car crash 20 years ago. King books written during that time are to me, are a bit scattered and hard to digest. Too long, hard to understand plots, too many characters to keep up with and most of them so troubled or conflicted they are not easily likable. Doctor Sleep, the greatest example of this, is nearly the worst book I’ve ever finished. Full Dark, No Stars allowed some redemption and included 1922, the story that inspired the Netflix movie but, little else that rose up to Dark Tower series level for me.
I think The Institute breaks even. The story is long, 576 pages, 19 hours on Audible. The plot is simple enough; Young children, once having been identified as telekinetic or telepathic are kidnapped, their parents murdered, and bought to a campus in the Maine woods and exploited for their mental capabilities.
We mostly follow Luke, a pre-teen that is possibly both telepathic and telekinetic, but definitely, very smart. He arrives at The Institute and while trying to learn what the heck is happening to him, he bonds with a group of other kids over their shared misery. This is when it starts to get a little dicey for me, and I am not faint hearted. Out of 576 pages, I swear 476 of them revolve around the torture these kids suffer at the hands of adults working at The Institute.
We never learn if the Institute is government or privately funded and managed but their resources seem to have no limit. On the compound, there are two sections housing the children and staff. The front buildings are where children are initially kept; tested, routinely drugged, beaten, manipulated, bullied and tortured, according to staff, “for the good of their country”. Once the staff of ex military and healthcare workers from the local area, have been sure to understand the childrens abilities, (sometimes by drowning them until they pass out, then bringing them back to do it all over again), they are moved to the second or backend of the compound. This is where the kids will use their abilities to shape world events, against their will, of course.
The kids eventually attempt an escape and this leads to a harrowing journey, back into a world full of adults and trying to figure out who to trust.
Pros: There are a lot of interesting themes that play out in this book. Dynamics between the children and how they build their friend circle. Tyranny, in the form of The Institutes headmistress, who really seems to think she is doing this for the betterment of her country and nurses that simply smack the children around because they want to. We have the Hero, a small town sheriff in a nearby city, that will eventually help the children and his evil counterpart, Head of Security at The Institute.
The Institute reminds me of Firestarter, which I read as a kid. I remember being terrified bad doctors would come thief my sister and I if they found out we were smart. 🤦🏾♀️🤣😂 The climatic ending is great as well, complete with suspense, action magic, and violence. #ClassicKing Everyone gets what they deserves and the telling is gratifying.
Cons: 400 pages of kids being tortured. 🤦🏾♀️ As a kid, I don’t remember this aspect In Firestarter but, but if it were there, maybe its why I was terrified? I understand the need to set the stage for fear and mystery but, the fact that it went on for so damn long? After 250 pages, it stopped adding anything new to the journey. I also thought the kids were pretty socially advanced. I guess that could be explained away by saying they were smart but, how smart is a 7 year old really? Sure, the kid can pass an algebra test but, navigate the social and psychological exercises of being kidnapped in the middle of the night, waking up in a new place, and having to make new ‘friends’ hours later, under duress? More than a little far fetched and frankly, distracting.
As the story gets closer to the climax, dialogue is more between the adults and thats a good thing.
Overall, 2&1/2 stars out of 5. Really good story, good writing, great climatic ending, content is difficult to digest in some spaces. GoodBook 14 of 42.