Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Gerald's Game by Stephen King

Gerald's Game
Written by Stephen King

Published in: 1992

Synopsis: A game of seduction between a husband and wife goes horribly awry when the husband dies. But the nightmare has just begun...


Dammit I love Stephen King. Seriously, i'm still amazed when I read a King book and realise how freaking talented this dude is. Some books remind me of this more than others, and Gerald's Game is a perfect example of everything that is good and right and incredible about Stephen King. In case you can't tell yet, I really liked Gerald's Game. Like, really REALLY liked Gerald's Game. Like, it's probably in my top 5 Stephen King books of all time. Yeah.

Why do I like it so much? First, it is terrifying! It's Stephen King's special brand of grounded-in-reality-this-could-is-will-be-you horror. Nearing her 40th birthday, Jessie Burlingame (wife of Gerald, subject of his game) is apathetic, disinterested and removed from everything in her life. As the book opens, Jessie is having her wrists snapped into handcuffs by her paunchy, boring lawyer husband Gerald and is finally realising how little she likes the man she's shared a life with for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, realising this when your hands are held tight by police-grade handcuffs invariably leads down a dangerous path. As she realises how little she likes him, she realises he's only interested in dominating her, and reducing her to, in essence, a sex toy. Trapped, Jessie lashes out when her husband refuses to listen to her pleas to be released and she believes he intends to take advantage of her vulnerable position.Unfortunately, what was meant to be about a wake-up call to snap Gerald back to reality, is the catalyst to the heart attack that has been looming over her over-worked, over-stressed, overweight husband. With Gerald dead on the other side of the bedroom, Jessie is now trapped with her arms over her head, unable to move in any substantial way. Oh, and did I mention they were up at their lake house in the middle of nowhere? So Jessie is trapped, almost naked, in the middle of no where in Autumn. This aspect of the novel had real ties to Misery (another favourite King novel of mine) and really affected me. This is such a simple situation that could happen to ANYONE. Unlike Misery where you really need a nutso fan to come across your prone broken body for the events to unfold, it isn't unheard of for a husband and wife to embark on some kinky sex games, and there are hundreds (if not thousands) of reported cases of a sexual partner dying mid-coitus. Fortunately, most people aren't chained to a bed far away from civilisation.

Alongside the pain and terror that accompanies being trapped in a bed with your husband lying dead nearby, Jessie is forced to remember another terrifying moment from her past. Forced, I hear you ask? As the book begins, we realise that Jessie is...plagued...by internal voices. Not in the sense that she's possessed, but in the sense that a lot of people have voices. There are two main voices, at least to begin with, and a series of "UFO" voices that come and go. There's Goody Burlingame, who basically denies that anything bad is happening and is happy to heap blame on Jessie. The second is new to Jessie and sounds an awful lot like her old college roommate, Ruth, and refuses to ignore the shit that's going on. She forces Jessie to accept the reality of the situations, and it's this voice that refuses to let Jessie ignore the event that occurred years earlier when Jessie was only 10 years old. And seriously, when you're stuck to a bed and are looking at dying, shouldn't you perhaps try and face the evil in your past which has stained your entire adult life? I should note, that it's this look back which ties in with the book Dolores Claiborne, as there is a brief cross over in each book which occurs as terrifying events happen to the two females during an eclipse.

As if being trapped and forced to recollect past horrors as you wait to die isn't horrifying enough, Jessie wakes up one night to find a shadowy man-creature in the corner of her room.So now she's tied to the bed and unable to escape, reliving an upsetting moment of her childhood, and is being confronted by what appears to be death, itself. THIS TERRIFIED ME! I could not handle it, I had to actually put the book down one night and watch an episode of Mythbusters to free my imagination from the depths of the book. Because of Jessie's inability to escape, the reader can't escape either. Stephen King drills the three-fold horror of the situation into you by describing the minutia of the story, little things like being desperately thirsty, needing to pee, or seeing shapes and shadows outside of the window are thrown into sharp relief when you read them knowing the hell Jessie is feeling. There are also some downright squeamish bits that will make your stomach somersault, but you'll struggle to tear your eyes away from the page. This book is one of those brilliant Stephen King novels which is grounded in real horror, and anything supernatural is thrown in to accentuate the reality of the horror. Does that make sense? Hope so!

The other thing I loved about this book is the character of Jessie and King's handling of her situations. One criticism I've had for King in the past is that I never find his female characters particularly interesting or well-developed. This is mostly because they're secondary characters to the King stand-in, but I've always felt like it is his biggest weakness. Now bear with me because this might get confusing and messy and make no sense. Jessie herself is and isn't a particularly fleshed out character. She's a woman in a bed, and what we get for much of the story is what she (and her voices) are thinking. However, she is one of the best female characters I've ever read written by King because he totally gets it. Jessie has been prayed on since she was 10 years old. She's been abused and taken advantage of in one way or another for nearly 30 years. As she lies chained to the bed, and she realises her husband is going to ignore her pleas for release and force himself on her regardless, she realises how the entire aftermath with play out. He'll get his rocks off, she'll file for divorce and accuse him of rape/assault, he'll say he thought she was just "in character," it'll be her word against his (a successful lawyer), and she'll have to live with that weighing her down forever more while he moves past it. Dude, STEPHEN KING GETS IT. That's all I could think as I read through this scene and the ones like it, King gets how fucked up society can be to women and the bullshit that forces women to keep quiet when they're the victim. Jessie isn't really a single female character, she's women, fullstop. She's every woman who has kept quiet because she doesn't want to get her father/brother/uncle in trouble, or because she thinks she'll be blamed, or because she knows no one will believe her over the man. She's the woman who has given up believing she really deserves anything because of the cloud hanging over her, that she had promised never to tell anyone about. Perhaps not everyone woman finds herself chained to a bed, stalked by a mysterious shadow demon/space cowboy, but the real horror of this story is a horror that many woman have experienced or empathised with.

So yes, I really liked this book. It was scary and twisted up my stomach and came very close to giving me nightmares. But it was also a completely different book than I'm used to reading from King. The discussion of rape and assault and that never-ending horror that causes women (and of course, men too) that features so heavily in this story was incredibly well written and handled with the care, intelligence and empathy it needs. The only downside, to me, was the ending. I won't discuss it because it is a major spoiler, but it really removed me from the urgency and claustrophobic fear that predominated the first three quarters of the story, and that's a real shame. Nonetheless, I think you should go and read this. Like right now, OK? Thank you!


  1. I love King too!! If you are interested in discussing King himself I run the King's Club on goodreads!!! http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/203-stephen-king-fans

    I love love King!!


  2. Oh awesome, joined!! King is simply the best, the more I read the more I love him.

  3. I really want to re-read Gerald's Game. I remember loving it - that scene where she struggles to get a sip of water from the glass by her bed has always stuck with me. Great review, it makes me want to grab my copy and start reading now!

  4. Aaaaah, this sounds so good! I'm also a bit like 'I love you, Steve, but seriously, where are the women?' so this sounds perfect as a redemptive book for that little issue I have! I just feel like the only women he really knows are his mum and his wife, so he's slightly limited on female characters or something, like not that it's a sexist problem AT ALL. But maybe it is, but I don't want to believe that!

    Anyway... Will be reading this soon, so I'm all excited now! :)

  5. Thanks Sophia, definitely re-read it, I think it's going to be my 2012 goal to get as many people as possible to read (or re-read) Gerald's Game.

    @Laura, Yeah I never felt like there was a sexist issue which his female characterisation, but it's definitely his weakest link. But yeah, loved this book and loved this female lead. The end is kinda meh - like the last 60 pages of it - but I think (hope!) you'll like it!



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