Oh, bondage… up yours!

Gerald’s Game

King, Stephen

BCA (by arrangement with Hodder and Stoughton), 1992

There is a certain talent to setting yourself limits.  Stephen King is probably most well-known for his epic stuff – The Stand, the Dark Tower cycle, and other books where there is lots going on, either in lots of different places or with lots of different people.  Gerald’s Game is the opposite.  There are really only two characters who are fleshed out to any great degree (not counting the dog), and only one real setting.  There are remembered characters and settings, but none of these occur concurrently with the events of the novel.

The story begins with Gerald and Jessie Burlingame gettin’ frisky at their holiday home at the lake.  Given that I read Bag of Bones probably about two months before I started reading Gerald’s Game, that there was a little deja vu-ish for my taste.  Granted, you read enough of any author, you start to see the zipper in the back of the costume, so to speak.   Anyway, specifically the form that their friskiness takes is some mid-range bondage – up from scarves, down from pretzelling yourself into fancy knots; so, handcuffs, which Gerald has obtained from a courtroom associate.  Jessie’s not wildly keen about them, but will take any sex with Gerald that she can get.  So far, so rote.  Unfortunately for Jessie, her day gets worse when Gerald has a massive heart attack, and has the ill grace to perish on the bedroom floor with her still handcuffed to the bedposts.  That’s really as much as I can tell you (it’s nothing that you couldn’t get off the front flap anyway – albeit, minus the sarcasm) without giving the rest of the story away, so if you think you might read this book, stop now, ’cause after this, here be spoilers.

Okay, so if you’re still with me, it means that I can go into greater detail.  For a book which, as I’ve mentioned, has pretty much got only one scene (that is, Jessie and Gerald’s bedroom), there is quite a lot of action in it.  Jessie spends a lot of time remembering things, this is true – specifically, what she refers to as ‘the day of the eclipse’.  This is an allusion to a sexual molestation which is perpetrated by her father when they are watching a full eclipse at yet another lakeside Maine holiday house.  There is a lot of abuse subtext in this book – Jessie’s dad, the fact that Gerald can only get it up if Jessie’s restrained in some way, the desecration of the corpses by Raymond Andrew Joubert, even the discarding of the dog, Prince.  I guess, if you wanna think about it that hard, you could say that weakness, or power rather, was one of the big thematic elements in this book.

And, you know what?  I didn’t like it.  Not the power thing, power is kind of a structural element in all horror up to a point, but there is something that leaves a weird taste in my mouth when Stephen King writes from a woman’s perspective.  His female characters are often flimsy, with no real… I don’t know, muscle or will behind them.  They’re almost always shackled in some way – not often physically like Jessie, but restrained in some other way from taking direct action.  Frannie Goldsmith in The Stand is pregnant, Mother Abigail and Delores Claiborne are older than the hills, Suzannah Dean is crippled.  The only female character that I can think of that takes direct action is Annie Wilkes from Misery, and let’s face it – she’s nuts.  Actually, when you’re thinking about Annie, she is almost more a masculine character than feminine – she’s described as being huge but shapeless, plus she kills babies, which is a denial of the feminine if ever I saw it.  Jessie does perform the necessary brutality in the end to extricate herself from her situtation,but only when faced with the ‘boogey man’ in the form of what she thinks is an apparition at the time, but ends up being Raymond Andrew Joubert.

That was another thing that bothered me.  Why make the booey man real?  It freaked the shit out of me when I thought he was death or something (space cowboy?) that Jessie’s overtaxed mind had cooked up to scare her into insanity.  I didn’t need for him to be real for him to scare me.  Maybe it was that King felt like he didn’t have enough gore or something in the book, so he whacked in a psycho with a necklace made of penises and called it good.  Dunno, Steve.  Not my favourite.

But that’s all good too.  I mean, everyone who reads has a favourite author, and I guess Stephen King is probably mine, if you only judge by the fact that I’ve probably read more of his books than any other author.  But just ’cause you’ve got a favourite, doesn’t mean that you’ve got to love every word they’ve ever written.  It means that you’re more inclined to try a book because they’ve written it, but it’s sure no guaruntee that you’re gonna like it.  And even within the books that you do like of theirs, there are probably parts that you’re a bit iffy on – witness me and Frannie Goldsmith, my least favourite character in The Stand, which is in the top half of my top five all time favourite books.  Gerald’s Game, to me, feels like he didn’t know what he wanted to write about; like he came to the keyboard everyday with a different idea.  Not judgin’ on whether or not that’s a good or bad way to do things, but it sure doesn’t make for a real cohesive story, at least this time around.

I’d say, if you’re going to read Stephen King, don’t start with this one.

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Posted on September 25, 2011, in Books, Posts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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