Another really disturbing story from Stephen King.

Published in 2019, The Institute by Stephen King begins with a drifter, a man who was once a cop who lost his job but not his cop instincts. One day he drifts into a small town in South Carolina, where he becomes the night knocker, the man who walks the town at night knocking on doors to make sure all are safe. And where his cop-instincts eventually become sorely needed.

And then the story starts again, with a boy. This one is Luke, a highly intelligent 12-year-old, who is one day taken and ends up in a secret Government facility deep in the forests of Maine, leaving his murdered parents behind.

In this facility – The Institute – he finds other children who, like him, have slight paranormal abilities (telepathy, telekinesis and such like) and makes friends with them. None of them are as intelligent as Luke, but that’s not what the masters are after. All the children, some as young as 8, some as old as 16, are subjected to ‘experiments’ to see if their psychic abilities can be enhanced and then used.

By now I was beginning to feel uneasy. This was shaping up to being a difficult story. But I stuck with it, because the author’s style and skill in weaving a spellbinding tale had hooked me. Many of the chapters that follow this beginning were very hard to read and I’m not even remotely going to attempt to describe the goings-on. Just to say, at times I had to put the book down, determined not ever to pick it up again, but then it drew me back.

The children forge strong bonds with each other while trying to survive, and the staff are unutterably vile (think all the psychopaths in all the thrillers you’ve ever read and put them together). On and off, I’d think this was impossible, that people just aren’t like that, and then I’d remember Auschwitz or Dachau and know I was wrong.

Luke manages to get out of there, helping a few of the others to freedom as well, and in doing that he deservedly brings the Institute down around the ears of their jailors. He succeeds mostly because they totally underestimate him, taking him for his small psychic abilities and ignoring his formidable intellect to their cost. The night knocker, whom we met in the first part, becomes an integral part of the last half of the story, and helps the children.

Stephen King is, of course, the master of horror and suspense and the style of this is typically King’s. Easy to read, fluent and strangely compassionate but hard to stomach. The basic premise (paranormal abilities) was hokum but that doesn’t lessen the impact.

So, did I like this? The honest answer has to be: No. It was shudderingly disturbing, but it was also riveting. And just a note of warning. To fit a long book into paperback format the printing is pretty small.

I have no idea how to rate this novel, so I’m not even going to try. Read it at your peril and make up your own mind.
Review by: Freyja.

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