The Institute by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Once again, Stephen King writes a novel that shows true horror lies not in the supernatural, but in the choices humans make. The world sees Luke Ellis as pretty special; he's got an incredible brain, and gifted with caring parents, he has reasonable social skills as well. He’s only twelve, but he’s all set to begin college classes in the coming fall. Except he wakes up in the middle of the night to his own kidnapping. His parents are also murdered, though it takes him a while to realize that fact.
Luke wakes up at the Institute, where a bunch of other kids are also imprisoned. They’re experimented on in Front Half and then disappear into Back Half and are never seen again. They each have a psychic gift, and all this murder and torture is enabled by taxpayer dollars diverted to a shadow government program.
The kids bond together, and Luke is not the only hero. In fact, the book starts out with the story of our adult hero, a cop who’s drifting his way on to a new future.
This would make a great movie, of course.
King is a master storyteller, keeping the suspense at a constant but tolerable level. We want the kids to escape, just like in the fairytales. This is the appeal of genre books and popular fiction: it’s clear who the good guys are, even if right and wrong get murky. The world is a scary and dangerous place and the only thing that helps is love and kindness; that’s what the stories are there to teach us.
The lesson is always hope, and the moral is always kindness, in the fairytales where horror was born.
King does a good job showing how people can let themselves torture kids for a living, either not caring in the first place or fooling themselves with the pretense of necessity camouflaged as national security. With this particular story, King asserts that no matter how lofty the goal, there is never a moral excuse for keeping children in cages.
(I won a Goodreads giveaway for the book, yay! and thanks!)
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