A Stephen King novel for those who don’t like Stephen King’s novels is an appropriate label for the horror master’s latest: “The Institute” (Scribner).
No zombies, ghosts or vampires were harmed in the manufacture of King’s current opus — there are none to be found. Ditto for haunted houses, diabolical clowns and rabid dogs.
But there is terror, there is definitely that. And torment — yes, torment abounds.
Indeed, “The Institute” might be the scariest of King’s more than seven dozen books and this is why: We have seen the enemy, and he looks an awful lot like us.
Not since “It” has King assembled such a wonderful cast of children to populate his dark dreams. Here, there is Luke Ellis, an off-the-charts intelligent 12-year-old who also happens to have a touch of telekinesis. He is our hero and the de facto leader of other similar TK and telepathic peers who have been abducted to wake up in rooms that mirror their own in almost every detail. The rooms are not in their homes but are part and parcel of a block of rooms on a sterile hallway in a facility the children know only as the Institute.
And, that’s where it begins to get weird.
The chief villains of the story, Mrs. Sigsby, the administrator of the facility, and Dr. Hendricks, who is certainly built from the pieces of Josef Mengele, head a staff of technicians, phlebotomists, housekeepers, dietitians and others who pick, probe and part the children from their families, their psychic abilities, their normal lives and ultimately, each other.
Anyone who has read the children King has fathered in book after book knows that the last is an unpardonable sin. Instinctively, these kids realize there is strength and acceptance in numbers, and so it is here. That they connect with and depend on the kindness of strangers in the second half of the novel is more vintage King.
To speak further of the plot of “The Institute” would be to spoil the novel, and for a story that is as much mystery as it is horror that would make the book unenjoyable.
So, for those afraid of possessed cars and domes that threaten to suck the air from your life, rejoice in a tale devoid of gore and supernatural.
Yet, the forces at work here are no less traumatizing — and perhaps even more so. Such is the way when inhuman evil is trumped by evil inhumanity.