Stephen King was one of my first “adult” reads and has remained one of my favorite authors. Although I freely admit that his writing changed after the accident that nearly killed him (about a half-hour from where I live now), I have found that more of his recent novels are finding that former groove he was in. The Institute is one of those novels I thought would be boring and predictable when I first started reading it. Instead, it ended up being a break-neck-paced thriller that sucked me in and I couldn’t put it down until I was done.
Luke Ellis is a kid who’s above the curve in many ways. At twelve years old, he’s already looking at college. His parents are proud and a bit lost, but things are looking like they might work out for his family to relocate so he can begin attending MIT. One morning, Luke wakes up in a room that looks just like his room at home, but he notices certain things out of place. He soon discovers he has been kidnapped and is being housed at The Institute, along with other children close to his age. They have been plucked out of society to further develop their apparent telepathic and telekinetic abilities.
The Institute is a story of the evil of everyday people. Sure, there’s some mysticism with the telepathic and telekinetic powers of the children at The Institute, but the real evil is the people who run it. King manages to tap on the “I’m doing something really bad, but it’s really something good” mentality that seems to have pervaded society as of late. At first, while reading this, I thought there was no way this could happen; there wouldn’t be people who would go along with this and work there. Then came the “no masks in schools” protesters prior to the start of this school year, and I realize that people are perfectly willing to sacrifice children for their own (political) agenda.
King weaves a great tale of life at The Institute for the kids, while not giving away too much. Life in the “front half” doesn’t seem so bad. Of course, readers know that Luke’s parents were murdered, and as time goes on he realizes that too, but at first, he believes they are still alive and he will return to them once his work at The Institute is over. The other children there with him form a bond together as they all seem to have been outsiders a bit who now find security with each other. The way the kids relate to each other feels so genuine. They are innocent, yet lose their innocence right before the reader’s eyes as they come to realizations about what’s really going on. However, that dynamic is what may eventually be the undoing of The Institute.
Prior to the reader being introduced to Luke, we follow the story of Tim Jamieson, a former police officer who’s wrestling with his own demons. His story starts off innocently with the decision to give up his seat on a flight for compensation. I kept wondering what the point of his story was. I knew it would intersect with Luke’s at some point, and it was always in the back of my mind as I was reading about Luke in The Institute, and how it was brought together really worked well.
If there’s one thing I was a little disappointed in, it was some of how the story was resolved. There’s no real sense of justice, and although not quite a “happily ever after,” it felt a little flat. The explanation for the existence of The Institute was a good one, and perfectly fits how people can reason themselves into doing pretty reprehensible things.
The Institute reinforces that evil doesn’t have to be a bad guy with horns and a pitch-fork or someone with super abilities; it is everyday people who somehow justify actions that should be universally condemned. King manages to convey this in a gripping story that I couldn’t put down. I felt like I did when I read his stories in my teens. Definitely worth picking this one up!