RaveThe Guardian (UK)It meanders, it pays only the scantest regard to the rules of narrative structure, it indulges gladly in both casual stereotyping and naked political point-scoring. And it’s [King\'s] best book in years ... King has always excelled at sketching everyman’s US, enriching the details into a minor epic register. It’s what elevates him above his genre peers, and it’s in full force here ... By the inevitable, biblical climax, unlikely plot contrivances or dated sexual politics are forgiven, because we can’t help but be won over by the eternal figure of the lone individual making a stand ... He may always be considered a horror novelist, but King is doing the best work of his later career when the ghosts are packed away and the monsters are all too human.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Depending on your appetite for plague fiction, the timing of Paul Tremblay’s Survivor Song is either excellent or appalling ... In any other year Survivor Song would be a safely speculative piece of genre fiction: it is Tremblay’s riff on the zombie apocalypse, told with formal playfulness and meta-awareness. In 2020, however, the novel seems disturbingly prophetic ... bleak and violent. It embraces the shock and urgh of mainstream horror and has none of the ambiguity of A Head Full of Ghosts or The Cabin at the End of the World, novels that distinguished Tremblay as a vital new voice in the genre. It is also, however, the author’s warmest and most humane book to date. Eruptions of violence are answered by moments of poignancy.
PositiveSlantEach of the tales is a return to well-trodden ground for King, but for the most part, they’re written with such charm that the old-fashioned feels refreshing in its sincerity. And, indeed, sincerity is a key feature of these tales ... King never reads less like himself than when he’s writing about Holly Gibney, who’s interesting but rarely believable ... Where [most of the stories] are classic King—horrid, yes, but full of humor, humanity, and authentic local color—\'If It Bleeds\' is a well-honed exercise in mechanical storytelling ... King can still write a horror story that scares and delights in equal measure. Each of these stories is a pared-down, or even recycled, version of a horror the author has unearthed before, but they’re told with such verve, confidence of voice, and, yes, warmth that you find yourself creeped out and comforted at the same time.
MixedSlantThough the \'special\' child is a well that King has drawn from many a time, the novel has a political edge that rescues the trope from the shadow of redundancy. The Institute is about separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, all in the name of national security and the better good. Even though King has stated that he wasn’t inspired by ICE and the migrant crisis, it’s almost impossible to separate the fiction from the headlines. And it’s in the moral murk of this situation that he finds the richest seam of his story ... The children are charming, of course. No one writes kids for adults as well as King. The Institute has been marketed as It for the new generation ... there’s some truth in the comparison—namely, in the realistic camaraderie fostered between the kids, who face and overcome the apathetic cruelty that adults represent. All of which makes it a shame that the book is so rote, as it sees King continuing to dip his toes in the same murky, shallow waters of crime fiction where much of his work has been stuck for the last decade. The author remains in the top tier of storytellers. Much has been made of this, often in reductive tones—as if storytelling isn’t what we’re all here for. Such benign dismissal neglects his deceptively simple style, the crafted tone of voice that seamlessly marries the everyman and the extraordinary. It overlooks the heart and heat that radiates off the page of a King novel, and in The Institute his skills actually come to the fore more than usual because the story itself is fairly insubstantial. The ideas are there: the juxtaposition of a human America against a corporate one, the meeting of physical and psychogeographic landscapes, that even in a multifaceted situation there’s a clear definable line of goodness. But King has wielded them more elaborately and successfully elsewhere.