December 2019, Fiction

The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King. September 10, 2019. Scribner, 561 p. ISBN: 9781982110567.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Suicide, Underage drinking, Underage smoking, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Over a prolific 40-year writing career most authors only dream about, King has turned almost every one of his novels into a bestseller on the strength of his ability to create sympathetic protagonists facing life-threatening and often otherworldly challenges. Following the tender and mysterious fable, Elevation (2018), King’s latest supernatural yarn stays true to his signature focus by featuring a 12-year-old genius named Luke Ellis who’s kidnapped and transported to a secret facility known simply as the Institute. As the shock of capture wears off, Luke discovers his fellow inmates are all other adolescents like himself with latent psychic powers—powers that are exploited and enhanced by a team of abusive researchers. When Luke befriends a disenchanted housekeeper, he quickly seizes the opportunity to escape and reveal the Institute’s undertakings to the outside world. King devotees will, of course, devour this latest suspenseful page-turner, but any reader looking for a smart thriller about an unusual black ops organization will find this compelling and rewarding. With his usual blend of plot twists and vividly drawn characters, King remains at the top of his game. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Abducted psychic teens, a black ops mission, and narrative magnetism ensure the usual King fever. Be prepared.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie. Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was”). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps. King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than sixty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The InstituteElevationThe OutsiderSleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), and the Bill Hodges trilogy: End of WatchFinders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and an AT&T Audience Network original television series). His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures, with It now the highest grossing horror film of all time. He is the recipient of the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award, the 2014 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.  His website is www.stephenking.com.

Around the Web

The Institute on Amazon

The Institute on Barnes and Noble

The Institute on Goodreads

The Institute on LibraryThing

The Institute Publisher Page

December 2019, Fiction

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. October 1, 2019. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 282 p. ISBN: 9780374277789.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the award-winning author of 10:04 and Leaving the Atocha Station, a tender and expansive family drama set in the American Midwest at the turn of the century: a tale of adolescence, transgression, and the conditions that have given rise to the trolls and tyrants of the New Right

Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart–who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient–into the social scene, to disastrous effect.

Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, The Topeka School is the story of a family, its struggles and its strengths: Jane’s reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan’s marital transgressions, the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a riveting prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the New Right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs; Marijuana; Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Underage drinking; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
The messy relationship between masculinity and language drives this seeking, eloquent story by poet-novelist Lerner (10:04, 2014; Leaving Atocha Station, 2011). Adam Gordon (maybe the same Adam Gordon as in Leaving Atocha Station, maybe not) is a debate-team prodigy. The son of talk-therapy professionals, Adam loves poetry and believes in the power of words. At parties, after a few drinks, freestyle rap keeps him out of fights, unlike his damaged classmate Darren, whose violent impulses are neither sublimated into nor constrained by mere words. Seeking early stirrings of today’s sociopolitical tensions in 1990s Kansas, Lerner interrogates Adam’s personal origins, dependency upon language, and the complicity tacit in his adolescent oblivion. Chapters narrated by Adam’s psychologist parents reveal other masculine transgressions and suggest that Adam’s issues are not his alone. The ekphrastic style and autofictional tendencies echo Lerner’s earlier works, and his focus on language games and their discontents fits nicely within the 1990s setting. But the fear at the core of this tale—that language, no matter how thoroughly mastered or artfully presented, simply isn’t enough—feels new and urgent.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2019)
In which the author scrupulously investigates his upper-middle-class upbringing to confront its messy interior of violence, betrayal, and mental illness. Adam, the center and occasional narrator of Lerner’s (The Hatred of Poetry, 2016, etc.) essayistic and engrossing novel, enjoyed a privileged adolescence in the Kansas capital during the 1990s: He competed nationally in debate, had plenty of friends, and was close to his parents, two psychologists at an illustrious foundation. (Lerner is again in autofiction mode; he, too, competed in high school debate, and his parents are psychologists who’ve worked at Topeka’s Menninger Clinic.) But all is not well: Fred Phelps’ homophobic Westboro Baptist Church recurs in the narrative, a childhood concussion has left Adam with migraines, and his parents’ marriage is strained. Lerner alternates sections written from the perspectives of Adam, his mother, and his father with interludes about Darren, a mentally troubled teen who committed an act of violence at a party that Adam feels complicit in. How much? Hard to say, but the book sensitively gathers up the evidence of abuse, violation, and cruelty in Adam’s life. Though the conflicts are often modest, like Adam’s mom’s fending off Phelps-ian trolls angry at her bestselling book, Lerner convincingly argues they’re worth intense scrutiny. As a debate competitor, Adam had to confront a “spread”—an opponent’s laying out a fearsome number of arguments, each requiring rebuttals—and Lerner is doing much the same with his adolescence. How do childhood microaggressions build into a singular violent act? Were the rhetorical debates between the Phelpses and the foundation a rehearsal for contemporary Trumpian politics? Few writers are so deeply engaged as Lerner in how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence, and if he finds no clear conclusion to his explorations, it makes the “Darren Eberheart situation” increasingly powerful and heartbreaking as the story moves on. Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.

About the Author

Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry (The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path), three novels (Leaving the Atocha Station, 10:04, and The Topeka School) and a work of criticism (The Hatred of Poetry). His collaborations with artists include Blossom (with Thomas Demand), The Polish Rider (with Anna Ostoya), and The Snows of Venice (with Alexander Kluge). Lerner has been a Fulbright Scholar, a finalist for the National Book Award, a Howard Foundation Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and he is currently a MacArthur Fellow. In 2011 he won the “Preis der Stadt Münster für internationale Poesie”, making him the first American to receive this honor. Lerner teaches at Brooklyn College, where he was named a Distinguished Professor of English in 2016.

Around the Web

The Topeka School on Amazon

The Topeka School on Barnes and Noble

The Topeka School on Goodreads

The Topeka School on LibraryThing

The Topeka School Publisher Page