Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Stephen King’s new novel is a compelling read with a dynamite premise which unfortunately peters out into a weak ending.
King really takes his time setting up this one. The first section follows an ex-cop named Tim on an itinerant journey around the south before settling down in small-town South Carolina. After Tim gets established we’re on to the story of the Institute, and it’s hundred of pages before we find out how Tim figures into it.
Child genius Luke Ellis is getting ready to double enroll at MIT and Emerson at the age of 12, but it’s a different talent of his that interests the Institute. Luke has low-level telekinetic abilities, so low that he’s not even sure it’s really him who sends plates crashing to the floor when he gets over-excited.
Unfortunately, the Institute doesn’t work on an application basis. Luke finds himself there one morning after being kidnapped and drugged. At the Institute he meets other gifted children like him who help him figure out what the hell the Institute is up to. King deftly characterizes the large number of child characters, from Nicky the fighter and punk rocker Helen to the terrified Avery Dixon and the wonderful Kalisha, the longest-tenured resident of the Institute.
King also builds the world of the Institute in terrifying detail. He populates the staff with all manner of sadists and psychopaths, each of whom chillingly believes they’re one of the good guys (or girls.) He deploys the banality of evil and the horror of bureaucracy to great effect. Perhaps most terrifying of all is the hyper-competent Mrs. Sigsby, head of operations.
Though you probably already know where the story is going, with King it’s always more about the journey than the destination, and The Institute is a fun ride.