Alone, and yet alive! – “Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King
I’m a lifelong Stephen King fan, and somehow had missed ever reading this particular book. However, it soon became apparent that I had missed out on something awesome.
Of Stephen King novels, there are only a few that have actually scared me. Don’t get me wrong – I adore everything the man has ever written, but I don’t necessarily consider “Cujo,” “Carrie,” and “Pet Sematary” as much horror as terrifically thrilling entertainment. “The Green Mile” wasn’t supposed to be scary, and other pieces like “The Tommyknockers” and “Dolores Claiborne” are almost more mystery than horror.
So, if it comes down to scary, I’d say his best works are “It” and “The Shining.” “It” scared the bejesus out of me in early high school, and I return about once every year or so to the Torrences of “The Shining” to revisit the hotel of terror.
There’s a third book on my Stephen King Books that Scared Me list now – “Gerald’s Game.”
It’s freaky, y’all.
King enjoys playing with things that scare us – rabid dogs, clowns, dead pets – but in this case he picked something universally terrifying and less gimmicky: a complete lack of control.
Jessie and her husband Gerald have taken a weekend trip to their summer home in the middle of winter to try and spice up their stale relationship. Gerald, of late, has been really into handcuffing Jessie to a bed. It’s his game, as she’s not really into it. On this fateful day, Jessie is handcuffed to the bed naked, and before the game can even begin, Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies – leaving the handcuffs on the dresser across the room.
So Jessie is left alone in a room with a dead man.
However, in King tradition, alone doesn’t mean alone. She’s kept company by the voices in her head, which revisit past memories, as well as by a stray dog, and a figure in the shadows. Whether he’s real or not, she can’t say. All she knows is that, after two days and nights of this, if she’s going to survive, she needs to get out.
King picked a tricky subject; a woman handcuffed to a bed can’t make phone calls and go explore nature, so he’s stuck writing within the room. He does this beautifully, and the reader gets a chilling idea of what being in Jessie’s situation would be like. The cramping of muscles after three days in a bed, the thirst one would feel, and the terror of knowing whats right outside that bedroom door are all detailed exquisitely, and all provide points of sheer terror.
I’m an admitted control freak, and therefore this book practically made my eye twitch the whole time I was reading it. My husband came home from a rehearsal while I sat reading it, and the sound of his keys in the door almost gave me a heart attack.
Jessie is a heroine we care about – and it’s a good thing, because she’s all we’ve got. Haunted by past events or not, she pulls it together enough to survey the situation and make decisions. Whether they’re all good decisions is questionable, but at least she fights. The lady has a twisted past, but she doesn’t let it consume her.
If I have one qualm, it’s the last few chapters – which neatly tie up a plot point that would have been more effective left wide open. People could have debated the “was it or wasn’t it?” issue for years. However, this question (which I am trying not to spoil) is answered cleanly in one of the last chapters. While it neatly wraps things up, I don’t think it was necessary. An open ending would have left the door open for the readers minds to make their own assumptions, which is sometimes the best way to keep scary things scary.
(Like that scene in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” where Leatherface puts the girl on the meat hook. Though in the actual film, you never see the meat hook go into the girl, people left the movie exclaiming over how gross that shot was. Which pretty much proves my above point perfectly.)
“Gerald’s Game” is the kind of Stephen King novel that will give you dreams. Not nightmares, necessarily, but dreams.
[Side Note: Yes, the title of this post comes from a Gilbert & Sullivan song. The song was in my head while I was reading the book, so I figured it all sort of worked.]