Review of Stephen King’s
The Institute

Editor’s Introduction: Daniel Dern is a big Stephen King fan and hopes you’ll become one, too. His previous evangelical post was “An Evening With (As In, They’re On Stage, I’m In The Audience) Stephen and Owen King, On Tour Promoting ‘Sleeping Beauties’” in 2017.

By Daniel Dern: Stephen King’s new novel, The Institute (561 pages), is a solid contemporary (set in our world, current timeframe) science fiction novel, of kids with undeveloped psionic powers — TP (telepathy) and/or TK (telekinetics)… and the (clandestine) organization — here, “The Institute” — that is kidnapping them. Why? Read the book.

King has written about psi kids before — Firestarter (which I liked a lot) comes, ahem, to mind. (Carrie, too, although I’ve lost track whether there was ultimately any darker/fantasy source to her abilities.) And he’s written other sf, like Under the Dome. (Along with way lots of stuff  categorized under “horror,” of course.) And bunches of simply good stuff, like Shawshank Redemption, and the short-story that first brought me to King, “Quitters, Inc.”

The Institute doesn’t, to me, read like “genre sf,” more like contemporary thriller with well-focused sf elements. If anything, the pacing and something-I-either-don’t-know-the-term-for-or-can’t-pin-down reminds me of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher novels, in the direct, relatively spare prose that propels the action and plot along.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, I believe you’ll enjoy The Institute. If you somehow haven’t yet read any Stephen King, this is a good place to start. (Then go get his Different Seasons novella collection.) If you haven’t found any Stephen King to your liking yet (and not all of his books grab me), give this one a chance.

(Your library will have it, although even if they do Reserve Requests, you may have to wait a bit at this point for your turn to come up.)

In case it isn’t clear: Recommended.

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9 thoughts on “Review of Stephen King’s
The Institute

  1. OGH said

    [yours truly] is a big Stephen King fan and hopes you’ll become one, too

    I’m not sure I’d agree with “big” or “hopes you’ll become one” so much as “has read a lot of Stephan King and likes much of that a lot” and “hopes you’ll try — and enjoy — a few if you’re a King newbie.”

    Some that haven’t grabbed me (or that I haven’t really reached for): The Dark Tower series.

    Some people feel that King writes overlong like a writer whose editor doesn’t want to be the one who says something that causes this big selling writer to go seek a new publisher. Or quite possibly that King found his stride and audience long ago, and like Gerald Kersh (NIGHT AND THE CITY, MEN WITHOUT BONES, THE BIG WASH, SGT NELSON OF THE GUARDS, FOWLERS END, etc) said about his own book, (to paraphrase from memory) writes books like this for people who like books like these.
    My only comment/criticism — it feels to me like too many of King’s “big bads” turn out to be bad spirits underground.

  2. Unless my memory is playing me very badly false, there was no fantasy element introduced as the source of Carrie’s powers: she was just natively a psi.

  3. Daniel Dern: I’m not sure I’d agree with “big” or “hopes you’ll become one” ….

    Whoops, another case of introductory perjury.

    But you did want that link in there, somewhere, right? Because if you didn’t, then your post didn’t need an intro at all…. 🙁

  4. No, no, I wouldn’t have SENT you that link in my email if I didn’t want it in there. To paraphrase Christine Lavin, I want my links to count! (Or was that — not from Lavin, from a long-ago-coworker, I’d rather be the Duke of URLs than the Abbott of Costello. Or was it the other way around? Either way, it was pre-web, so Earls.)

    Again: I’ve read a lot of Stephen King. I’ve liked a bunch. I’ve reread a few. I haven’t read a bunch. I’m a fan of his writing, and love both his knowledge and acknowledgement of the field, including sf, pulps, comics, etc.

  5. @David Goldfarb: that’s also my recollection — in fact, the dim recesses of the mind recall a hint that similar powers, just not as … vigorously … used, had appeared at least once elsewhere in her family. There’s no direct explanation (unlike (e.g.) Firestarter), but there’s certainly nothing that smelled like magic to me.

  6. (11) I saw The Bride of Frankenstein again in a theater yesterday, not knowing what an appropriate date that was. Lanchester as the Bride only appears in it for maybe two minutes, but she’s perfect— it’s immediately understandable why she’s the most memorable and iconic part of a movie that is stuffed to the gills with memorably bizarre things. I was also reminded of how strange it is that that movie, with all of its goofy elaborations and deliberately over-the-top comic tone, is somewhat more faithful to the book than the original film (and seeing them back-to-back is a pretty weird experience since it’s mostly the same people and it’s a very direct sequel, but they clearly don’t care about continuity at all).

  7. I used to be a big Stephen King fan up until about 1990, when someone pointed out to me that his stories have a lot of homophobic content. I went home and flipped through my library, and I realized that most of his novels and many of his short stories used homosexuality as a horror device. Quite a few equated homosexuality and pedophilia. None presented a positive gay character.

    So I wrote him a letter. It said I was a long-time fan, that someone had pointed this out to me, and asking if he’d consider putting a positive gay character into a future story. It was about as positive as I could make it, and I emphasized that I didn’t think he was doing this to hurt gay people.

    He sent me back a rather nasty form letter with something to the effect that “since people like you don’t think, a general response will do.” It wasn’t even gay-specific. (When he said “general” he really meant it!)

    So I went from buying everything the man wrote (in hardback, as soon as it became available) to never buying any of his work ever again. I never crusaded against him, but I could no longer enjoy his work.

  8. @Greg — King’s 2018 novella “Elevation” has what seems to (straight) me a positive portrayal of a lesbian couple. If you decide to re-engage his work, this might be a good entry point.

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