The Institute – 4/5 Stars
I really liked this one! For whatever reason this one kept getting criticized in ways that made me push reading it for a few months (I’ve had the Audiofiles since the week it came out), but I could tell in the opening chapter, the book was going to settle into itself slowly in ways that I’ve liked Stephen King’s longer books to do. If this book were 1000 pages I would still like it. The last act speeds up a little too much too fast, and the early chapters do not end up being as fruitful (but the ending is good?) as they were projected to be, but the vast middle is very good.
So the premise is that a child genius is kidnapped in the middle of the night on the eve (not literally eve, but metaphorical eve) of his going to both Emerson and Harvard for college when he’s 12. It’s emphasized multiple times that he’s an all-around genius and this is important because it includes math and science, but also literature and philosophy. He’s kidnapped and wakes in an institution, where he’s given a kind of chaotic orientation by other kids. It turns out that this is some kind of clandestine facility for kids with psychic or telekinetic powers. It becomes clear that he is not even especially gifted with telekinesis (a tk minus — meaning he has the powers, but they happen passively around him) but he taken anyway, and the purpose for the kidnappings is not known.
So the bulk of the novel plays out in this state, and all happens over the course of a few weeks as Luke slowly realizes the shape and intensity of his situation. I won’t tell you much else, because like I said, I really liked this one. When I read John Grisham’s The Firm I was so disappointed in the big reveal of the conspiracy in that book, and while this one may or may not be that shocking or surprising, I think it’s really satisfying.
Apt Pupil – 4/5 Stars
So this is the third most famous novella from Different Seasons after The Shawshank Redemption and The Body (Stand By Me). It begins with a 13 year old boy ringing the doorbell of an old man in his California town and calls him by the name of Nazi Concentration Camp commander. The old man demurs, but with photographic and researched evidence he outs him, and he admits his past. What happens next is the turn. The boy is obsessed in a dark, violent way with Nazi history and wants the gruesome details from the very source. With the extortion and lots of alcohol, they begin spending every day together rehashing the past. And what forms is a kind of codependent, abusive relationship in which the poison and darkness of the Nazi is transferred (and at least shared) by an increasing darkness in the boy. This leads to a few additional choices that entwine them further, and it keeps going from there.
You have to be on board for this book taking a seriously dark turn about midway or it won’t work, and without that turn, it might have worked out really well. I still like it and I think Stephen King really has something figured out about the nature of American violence. Having the boy be the initial source of the darkness and evil, having the Nazi make some good points (not about innocence, but) about American complicity in violence is upsetting of course.