Gerald’s Gameis a brutal, exhausting read. With this 1992 novel Stephen King did the impossible: he wrote a harrowing, haunting novel about one woman trapped in a room . . . and he managed to make it so damn interesting! Not only that, I feel this is King’s scariest work. That’s subjective, of course, but it’s the opinion of this humble reviewer.
Jessie and Gerald Burlingame have gone up to their summer cabin on Dark Score Lake in the middle of October for a weekend getaway. The community is almost empty — the summer people have long gone home — and the couple plan to spend a lot of time in bed. Gerald is a fan of bondage and Jessie is not. He forces her into handcuffs and she kicks him, her overweight, middle-aged husband, in the stomach and testicles. Hubby drops dead, and Jessie is alone, chained to the bed . . . with no means of escape. And that’s chapter one!
This is the mother of character studies. Over 400 pages or so, by way of flashbacks and inner voices, King deeply explores Jessie’s psyche and what it means to be a strong woman in this macho, male-oriented world. When I think of Gerald’s Game, the word I immediately associate with it is ‘brave’. Stephen King could have rested on his laurels: he had become known for creating small towns only to burn them down by novel’s end; he was known for traditional horror tropes like ghosts and vampires and aliens. Don’t get me wrong — in King’s hands, all those things became new and invigorated once more, but this novel shows the horror master turning a corner in his writing. What would follow is a string of novels unafraid to poke and prod at highly sensitive, current social issues, all featuring some of the damn best character work of the man’s career.
All that said, this novel is not without its faults. On the whole it is very good, but it is too wordy at times; repetitive, too. And the ending overstays its welcome, I fear. I feel the novel would have been stronger had it ended with Jessie in the Mercedes, and perhaps a brief epilogue added on a’la Pet Sematary. What the reader is instead given is sixty or seventy pages of largely unnecessary wrap-up.
This will never be top King, for me, but it’s a fine novel all the same.
““If anyone ever asks you what panic is, now you can tell them: an emotional blank spot that leaves you feeling as if you’ve been sucking on a mouthful of pennies.”
The Burlingames’ cabin is on Dark Score Lake, which would loom large over King’s ’90s output, especially Bag of Bones.
The towns of Chamberlain (Carrie) and Castle Rock (several short stories and novels) are mentioned in the novel’s final chapters. Jessie muses on the fire that happened in Castle Rock “about a year ago,” which is a direct reference to the events of Needful Things’s climax.
This novel is, of course, the fraternal twin of Dolores Claiborne, but I will discuss that connection in depth when reviewing that novel.