Stephen King’s ‘The Institute’ turns our political moment into gripping horror

William Sheehan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Twenty years ago, Stephen King’s highflying career nearly came to an end when he was struck by an out-of-control vehicle near his home in rural Maine.

The decades since that near-fatal encounter have been a kind of bonus round, and King has taken full advantage.

His output during this period includes more than 20 novels and several collections of short fiction, along with numerous screenplays and assorted non-fiction.

Always prolific, King seems to have tapped into a bottomless reservoir of narrative. “The Institute,” is the latest to emerge, and it is classic King, with an extra measure of urgency and anger.

Beneath its extravagant plot and typically propulsive prose, the book is animated by a central concern that could not be more relevant: the inhumane treatment of children.

King once famously remarked on his willingness to “go for the gross-out” should a fictional situation require it.

He has, of course, done so to great effect over many books and many years, and his place at the forefront of America’s literary boogeymen is beyond dispute.

But King’s ability to generate world-class scares has never been the most important aspect of his work.

More central to his enduring popularity is his ability to create textured, credible portraits of real people beset by appalling circumstances and struggling, often futilely, to survive.

Lately, King has turned his empathetic vision outward, addressing the social and political crises pressing down on us all.

Last year’s “Elevation” was a lovely, fable-like novella about the divisions running like fault lines through the country.

“The Institute” is a very different sort of book that takes an equally hard look at who – and what – we have become.

“The Institute” begins in DuPray, SC, far from the eventual center of the narrative.

King quickly introduces us to the town and its denizens, chief among them Tim Jamieson, a roving former policeman who will play a vital role in the dramas to come.

The action then shifts to Minneapolis and to the home of the novel’s protagonist, 12-year-old Luke Ellis.

Luke is a bona fide, off-the-charts genius who possesses a minor talent for telekinesis.

The story begins in earnest when a trio of thugs invades Luke’s home, kills his parents and carry him off to the dark destination of the novel’s title.