The Institute, is another winner: creepy and touching and horrifyingly believable ... casual description of the looming unknown is emblematic of what makes King’s writing, and this book, so effective ... In some ways, The Institute reads like a re-working of Firestarter for our times ... It is also a tad long-winded. It’s always lovely to have more of a King novel to read, but this one could have lost some pages ... That’s a minor complaint for a major work, however. The vast bulk of The Institute is essential—plot and characterization working hand-in-hand to create an intimate picture of horror.
King’s most unsettling antagonists are human-size ... consummately honed and enthralling as the very best of his work ... these first 40 pages — low-key and relaxed, an unaffected and genially convincing depiction of a certain uncelebrated walk of life — demonstrate how engaging King’s fiction can be even without an underlying low whine of dread ... ruminates on the people who carry out the administration’s policies on the ground, the sort of working folk he usually champions ... Of all the cosmic menaces that King’s heroes have battled, this slow creep into inhumanity may be the most terrifying yet because it is all too real.
...a big shank of a book that reminded me instantly of many of the reasons I loved (love?) [King]. His characters are the kind of people who hear the trains in the night. The music is always good. He swings low to the ground. He gets closer to the realities and attitudes of working-class life in America than any living writer I can think of ... I read The Institute quickly and painlessly and I tried to enjoy myself. That I didn’t is partly a matter of temperament. I generally want to smack a (fictional) kid with special powers. I don’t care about quests or magic or Vulcan mind-melding. Yet I can suspend my predispositions. The right writer can convince me to stick around. King kept me marginally on the hook ... buries itself under a self-generating avalanche of clichés ... The right words are all we have in this world, and King too rarely pauses to search for them. He can access a good deal of genuine chrome-wheeled magic as a writer, but he reaches too often for the canned and frozen stuff, for the dried spices, for word-clusters that fell off the back of a Sysco truck ... feels antiquated and a bit gamey in other ways. The novel is set in the present day, but potatoes are 'spuds,' coffee is 'joe'...You may start to feel you’re in a ’50s-era cartoon strip ... This novel is less a motorcycle than a double-decker bus, but it does handle gracefully. The plot never stalls. There’s a fervent anti-Trump streak. And King still really knows what to do when he gets his characters out on the road.
... classic King, with an extra measure of urgency and anger. Beneath its extravagant plot and typically propulsive prose, the book is animated by a central concern that could not be more relevant: the inhumane treatment of children ... Few writers have King’s ability to create credible young people whose nascent qualities prefigure the adults they will (with luck) become. And even fewer have the imaginative resources that King brings to bear on his portrait of life at the Institute, a life filled with large and small cruelties, and with a chilling indifference to the effect those cruelties have on the most vulnerable among us ... Once again, the real world peers out from behind the curtain of King’s fiction ... a first-rate entertainment that has something important to say. We all need to listen.
Once pigeon-holed as a 'horror-meister', King has become a formidably versatile author, enabling him to pull off a captivating, hybrid novel that shape-shifts through several genres: the sci-fi trope of the evil lab or hospital in the institute scenes; the children’s adventure story in Luke’s escape and flight; social comedy in the sketches of small-town characters; the western in the final showdown, with the good guys besieged at the police station; fantasy in the means Luke’s friends use to overthrow their jailers. What it all adds up to, though, is unclear. Does The Institute stand for something (perhaps the US military, which also grooms teenagers to kill faraway enemies)? Or is the novel just a bravura display of King’s own special power, with no ulterior purpose besides showing that tales of missing children don’t have to be formulaic?
The Institute ultimately holds up well as an original and enjoyable text. The pages almost turn themselves, the descriptions facilitate rather than dominate the imagination, and King even elicits tears as we follow new characters...from far corners of the United States to their eventual meeting in a small South Carolina town ... nuanced webs of action and consequence...comprise this engaging narrative. At its core, The Institute is indeed a story of good versus evil, children versus adults, the haves versus the have-nots, but there are clear motivations behind the actions of each character, and these motivations turn the 'hinges' that drive the events of the story ... To be certain, at times King goes for the easy emotional reactions ... but again, he is ultimately careful to make sure that The Institute is far from a pity party that elicits easy emotions ... subtle insights into the adults within The Institute slowly and methodically propel readers toward a greater sense of animosity for injustice than they may have held before reading the novel, rather than promoting simplistic rhetoric for the sake of a cheap sale. King’s layered approach to the conflicted morality of The Institute’s adult world contrasts with his endearing treatment of these same turning points within his child characters ... King is careful to only point toward compassion and concern for the children of whom he writes instead of engaging in insipid didacticism. King never resorts to maudlin sentiment and instead carefully places enough breadcrumbs throughout the story for even the most cold-hearted reader to follow, leading them to feel both horror and compassion for children denied happiness and comfort.
How far The Institute will satisfy you as a reader will depend on what draws you to King’s fiction in the first place. If you enjoy boss battles and grandiose conspiracies, the allure of cosmic forces moving beneath the surface of sleepy reality, then this novel may be for you. If, like me, what you enjoy most in King is his obsession with minor detail and irrelevant backstory, his gift for portraying the lives of ordinary people, his sly asides to the reader and loving literary references, you are likely to find this book—in spite of its 500 pages—too cursory, too interested in the wrong things ... it feels too writing-by-numbers...insufficiently distinctive.
... classic King. The best scenes in the first half of the book are when the kids are talking with each other, trying to figure out where they are, why they're there, and eventually what to do about it. King has always had a great ear for childish conversation ... King fleshes out the supporting characters nicely and there's a Rocky vs. Drago feel to it as you really begin to root for the kids and their sympathetic grown-ups ... Anyone who avoids King because they don't like 'horror' novels will be safe reading this one. It's more mystery than horror, with the evil concentrated on inhumanity. There's no bloody gore or supernatural forces, just adults treating children horribly. As the book climaxes and then reaches its resolution, you'll have to decide for yourself if the good or the bad guys win.
...a horrifying yet warmly optimistic tale ... This may be one of King’s most socially conscious novels, and it is a better book for it ... The Institute...contrasts with the downbeat cynicism that peppers his earlier work. Considering the divisive and, yes, cynical world we currently inhabit, The Institute is a welcome breath of optimism.
This is not a case of King retreading ground that he’s covered before. Rather, it’s an example of how he finds new angles from which to present familiar ideas rich with possibilities ... The second half of The Institute is a suspenseful chase scenario ... The novel’s worst horror is the complete dehumanization that the Institute imposes on the children ... Intentionally or not, King has written a very chilling parable for our times.
King devotees will, of course, devour this latest suspenseful page-turner, but any reader looking for a smart thriller about an unusual black ops organization will find this compelling and rewarding. With his usual blend of plot twists and vividly drawn characters, King remains at the top of his game.
... whether King is chasing Stranger Things or Stranger Things is chasing King, the result is the same: shocking suspense and hallmark thrills ... The concept of family separation takes on an eerie weight here, with unsettling parallels between the events of the novel and the real-life images we see on the news of kids huddled under silver mylar blankets in cramped cages at the U.S.–Mexico border ... Political leanings aside, The Institute offers a thrilling reading experience and rousing tribute to the resilience of children and the unending fight against evil.
Some of Stephen King’s most beloved books have pitted children against the system. Think It. Think Firestarter. And now, think The Institute ... King at his best, scaring the heck out of readers by making them wonder what else the government may be doing under cover of science.
... meaty, satisfying slab of high-concept pulp fiction ... an atmosphere of creeping dread and a keen awareness of the cogs and wheels of bureaucratic evil ... The success of The Institute is in the way it repurposes this familiar material to spotlight a 21st-century US in crisis; corrupted and compromised and mired in debt. The Institute sits alone in the woods. But it’s symptomatic of a wider malaise.
... written with the swaggering confidence of a master. Usually King’s prose is full of folksy informality and reliant on pop culture references and internal monologue to convey mood and character. Here, he dials down these old tricks ... Nor is the book as self-referential as many of his others. Aside from mentions of ’Salem’s Lot (the fictional town that gives King’s second novel its title) and The Shining (the movie), there are none of the detours into King lore that delight fans but can baffle the uninitiated. The result is a focused and fierce read, the work of someone galvanised by anger ... The message is clear: the underdogs can, by sticking together and taking concerted action, defeat the establishment.
By virtue of necessity, the narrative is told almost entirely from Luke’s perspective, robbing us of the strengths of King’s oft-peripatetic point of view, which in books like It, The Stand, and Under The Dome, emotionally mines myriad individuals for the benefit of the whole. Here characters either disappear or disengage from Luke just as they’re starting to crystallize, only to resurface after a new batch of characters has been introduced ... One longs for King to dig into these villains ... has its fair share of blood, but it’s a shockingly idealistic and optimistic story, one that, in a well-intentioned if utterly cringeworthy sequence, directly echoes the slogan of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The warmth is welcome, though, especially in a story that investigates the nameless, faceless forces exploiting our most vulnerable. So, even if the bonds don’t quite resonate, the young heroes still do. Like Danny Torrance before them, they’re impeccably balanced between being wise beyond their years and as emotionally tender as their age would suggest. King’s always excelled at couching coming-of-age narratives in moments of horror, and The Institute’s most thrilling stretch finds Luke reckoning with his own loneliness during a punishing test of mental and physical will ... archetypal King in that it contains much of what we love about and associate with his name—powerful kids, supernatural forces, small towns, heartfelt explorations of friendship—but it’s also a grander glimpse of the bright-eyed King we saw with last year’s hokey Elevation. It’s easy to miss the guts, but contrary to what some might think, nobody reads King just for the guts.
At the beginning of the novel when we meet Tim Jamieson we are then suddenly segued to Luke when he is abducted making one wonder what Tim's role is in this tale. It is not until about two-thirds of the way through where Tim reappears. Though the basis of this story is somewhat improbable, King has a way of subliminally drawing in his reader to believe a horrific and chilling premise as quite possible.
This is a thriller — and a good one, at that. There’s little in the way of King’s usual emphasis on the occult beyond the topic of psychic powers, which, according to surveys, as many as 40% of Americans believe are real. But there’s no shortage of monsters, that’s for sure. They just come in the coldblooded, end-justifies-the-means, laws-don’t-apply-to-us human variety. We have no trouble believing that those types of people are real. And they are plenty scary.
... as soon as you start really getting to know him, Tim disappears for a few hundred pages while Luke and his cohorts are introduced, and the results are a bit disjointed. Like two distinct TV shows that end up with a prime-time crossover, you figure Luke and Tim’s paths will streamline together, but it does lead to quite a propulsive and satisfying finale ... King mines his own familiar territory ... even though King’s writing still has the gumption, folksiness and, sure, full-on creepiness his Constant Readers have always loved, The Institute is missing the appealing vim and vigor displayed in the author’s recent foray into detective work with the outstanding Mr. Mercedes trilogy and spinoff-of-sorts The Outsider. Those works – and last year’s surprisingly uplifting Elevation – felt like an icon stretching himself, and you don’t have to be a psychic to figure out there’s a lot of 'been there, read that' with The Institute ... That said, King does well inserting a certain modern relevancy ... There are certain aspects of Luke’s situation that eerily resemble what’s happening in real life with kids at the Mexican border, though in other instances it’s like the X-Men if Professor X was a sadistic stooge always trying to save his own keister ... a frequent lesson he extols that never gets old.
The story’s momentum comes from melodramatic sections ending with cliffhanger lines of grave import ... will sell many copies and moderately entertain thousands of readers, but there are better options for melodramatic escapism ... In 2019, King’s unstoppable creativity faces no restriction but mortality; his children are successful, his descendants secure; he is the system. The vision of The Institute’s cruelty can’t come from his own reality and it shows ... This is no argument that The Institute is a bad story, and certainly not that King is a bad writer...It is not a criticism to say that King in 2019 doesn’t write with the instinctive edge he felt in 1974 ... I still read The Institute cover to cover, as I’ve read all King’s books and stories. Granted, I felt no sense of 'leave the lights on' dread, like from Pet Sematery in my youth. I never felt enraptured in anyone’s lives and fates, as I did with the survivors of The Stand ... So what if I finished unimpressed with The Institute’s derivative premise and one-dimensional characters? I finished ... You should read The Institute, but as education, not entertainment.
Though 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.
If you are now thinking of the recent Netflix show Stranger Things, don’t forget that King got there first: he’s been writing about psychic children and conspiracies since the Sixties. There’s even a sense here that he’s having fun ... King is supreme at crafting the building blocks of a story and laying them together in a slick, teasing and apparently simple way. But there is also a wealth of political references ... If there is a fault here, it’s that this dizzying sense of encroaching chaos isn’t fully explored ... isn’t overly violent or shlocky, as some of King’s books can tend to be. In many ways, especially with Luke as its protagonist, it could almost be young adult fiction, particularly as it relies on the idea that children, when connected, are a powerful insurrectionary force. Nevertheless, there are deeply sinister scenes ... Everything you would expect from King is here ... While not his best, The Institute still hums and crackles with delicious unease.
There’s a timeliness to this book, an of-the-moment quality that also possesses a sense of universality ... another strong entry into King’s prolific and ever-more-impressive late-period oeuvre, a continuation of the storytelling ranginess that he’s put on display over the past decade-plus. He’s gleefully veered all over the narrative map, telling tales that are both different than what he’s done before while also absolutely being of a piece with his previous work. It’s astonishing to consider; the surprises keep on coming ... Nobody captures what it means to be a kid quite like Stephen King; so much of his best work seems to deal with adolescents and adolescence to some degree. He evokes not just the complexities of childhood, but also a real sense of the adult a child might grow up to be...Luke and his friends are the latest in a long line of exceptionally-crafted kid characters in King’s work ... King’s certainly no stranger to outsized representations of supernatural terror, but he is also one of our best at digging into the most human aspects of evil ... All of this, by the way, is packed into one hell of a thriller. King’s plots are unfailingly propulsive; the manner in which he unfurls his stories compels the reader’s consumption to an almost-greedy degree. And the settings he creates are exquisitely vivid; he evokes place with an easy, immersive grace ... more outstanding fiction from our greatest storyteller. It is a book of the moment in ways both large and small, a thoughtful and thought-provoking tale that is exquisite in its anger and steadfast in its hopefulness.
As he has demonstrated initially in Carrie and later in IT, the novella The Body and many other books, King excels at depicting children and teens in crisis. In Luke, King presents a prodigy who is smart without being obnoxious, someone readers can root for without reservation ... As he has shown in books such as Under the Dome, King understands that fascism is something to be scared of, that monsters don’t always have fur or fangs, just a will to put someone else under their thumbs. The incidents of violence against children don’t feel far-fetched, sad to say ... The Institute puts a new spin on a familiar conceit, not so much making the plot unpredictable as updating it for the current political climate. As grim as Luke and his friends’ predicament is, a thread of optimism runs through the narrative. Terrible things befall the children, but there’s still reason to be hopeful, a notion to hang on to past the final page.
King wows with the most gut-wrenching tale of kids triumphing over evil since It ... Tapping into the minds of the young characters, King creates a sense of menace and intimacy that will have readers spellbound ... Not a word is wasted in this meticulously crafted novel, which once again proves why King is the king of horror.
The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie ... It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.
King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.