Spare The Kids:
The world seems to getting crazier by the day, so any outlandish scenario a writer comes up with, can be believed. After the lyrical novella, Elevation, Stephen King goes back to his horror-thriller mode to write a scary novel, The Institute—scary because it shows the extent of cruelty ordinary humans are capable of. There is also extraordinary courage and kindness, without which King’s nightmare scenario may well come true.
The thick novel (that picks plot points from some of King’s earlier novels in little ways that fans would pick up) begins with an upright cop, Tim Jamieson, who has just lost his job, voluntarily giving up his seat in an overbooked plane to New York, and landing in a back of beyond town called DuPray. (“Great events turn on small hinges,” comments King) He gets the job of a night knocker (a kind of cop-cum-watchman) there, and decides to stay put for a while. King leaves him there for a bit, and goes on to meet the story’s protagonist, 12-year-old Luke Ellis. The kid is an over-achieving genius and has gotten admission to an elite school, when three thugs break into his house, kill his parents, drug and abduct him.
When he comes to, he is in The Institute, in a room like the one he had at home, but in a closely guarded building in a densely forested area of Maine, from which there is no chance of escaping. On meeting other kids, he discovers that while they are well fed (and freely given booze and smokes) they also have to undergo extreme torture to enhance their telepathic or telekinetic abilities. They don’t know what is the purpose of these experiments for which they are human guinea pigs, only that after a few days, the kids vanish to another part of the building and are never heard of again.
The adults—doctors, administrative staff, housekeepers and guards—are uniformly sadistic, and without a trace of a conscience that would allow them to question their own actions. Those who run the clandestine organization are very powerful and believe that what they are doing is for the greater good of the world, so what if some people are sacrificed to the cause.
The traumatized children help one another cope as best as they can, but are also aware that their friendship is short-lived. King describes the processes the kids go through in excruciating detail, and perhaps, some judicious chopping would have helped make the novel even more readable.
The grown-ups underestimate Luke’s brilliance and will. With the help of another powerfully psychic 10-year-old, Avery Dixon, and a contrite employee, Luke manages to escape and evades capture by the Institute’s network of informers and corrupt cops, to miraculously reach DuPray. He runs into Tim Jamieson, who not only believes Luke’s bizarre story but risks his life to help him.
King’s stories are gripping, but he also has a way of obliquely referring to what is going on around us, and also offer hope when things are depressingly bleak. He does not allow the reader to take a breath of relief after the story is over; the epilogue sends a chill down the spine. Righteous people can just never let their guard down, because evil never rests.
It was only to be expected that The Institute would make its way to the careen, and a TV series is reportedly underway.
By Stephen King