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review 2017-04-21 23:11
Gerald's Game - Stephen King

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.


Favorite Quote


"“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."


King Connections


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.


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text 2015-03-23 02:14
A Decade with King: 1985-1994

"You've been here before..." Needful Things, by Stephen King


Welcome back, Constant Reader.


Prefatory Matters: Back in September 2014, I decided to reread Stephen King's entire catalog, chronologically, by date of publication. Then, I went a bit further. I decided to complete this challenge in a single year. That's a decade of King every three months. These posts will be a bit emotional, as they are my personal experiences with King's work. For spoiler-laden reviews of each novel, you can click on the corresponding title. At the end, I will attempt to tie all books back into the Dark Tower using my own theories and facts King himself has verified.


Previous posts: 1974-1984


This, my fellow Constant Readers, is A Decade with King: 1985-1994.


I'd like to take a moment and bring to light some patterns I've found in King's career. Every ten years, King releases a novel over a thousand words, a short story collection, a collection of novellas, and at least one Dark Tower book. Sometimes, one book will fall into two categories. In his third decade, King didn't release a single thousand-page novel, but he did release the final three Dark Tower novels, which were, altogether, over two-thousand-pages long and written consecutively, like one big novel. I think this counts, but I will let you decide. Other than that, there has been no deviation to this pattern. Not saying there's some kind of conspiracy behind this, just saying it's interesting. And I have to wonder whether or not it's intentional on King's part.


With the decade of King's work spanning 1985-1994, we step into an era wherein I actually remember King's books being published and the hullabaloo surrounding their releases. I remember the nonsensical line inside Waldenbooks at the San Bernardino mall for the release of It . Crazed fans speaking loudly about how it was King's longest book to date (you have to remember that The Stand was originally just over 800 pages when it released in 1978; the Complete and Uncut version would not be printed until 1990, and It came out in 1986). I was six years old at this point, and I recall, most vividly, the lady in front of us. She had epic bangs (epic even by 80's standards), and she had to shit. She refused to get out of line unless someone saved her place. No one would, so she just stood there, passing gas, funking up the place, until someone passed a complaint along and she was escorted to the bathroom. She never returned to the line. Yes, this actually happened. I might pay the bills with my fiction, but this story is true. I also remember the insanity the week after The Tommyknockers dropped. People everywhere were hot under the collar. Nobody liked that book. People felt ripped off, even more so than they felt with It (which, interestingly enough, was one of the most expensive books of its time due to its length). The Tommyknockers left many a fan shell shocked, and King fans didn't fully recover until Needful Things. I think his success with the latter book came from his return to Castle Rock. 


Now we move on to the section where I insert my personal memories of each book. Most people can hear a song and be transported to a certain moment in their lives. Me? I'm that way with King books. 


It reminds me of being a kid. I had many adventures around my small hometown, and most of them included a band of friends I would come to lose, one by one, over the years to drugs, violence, or a combination of both. Of that group, I'm the last one standing. I consider myself more the Ben Hanscom type, but there's a little Mike Hanlon in me as well. If anyone needs me, I'll be at the library. I've come to believe that every single Stephen King book can be explained using the Dark Tower series, The Tommyknockers, or this novel. But we'll talk more about that later. 


The Eyes of the Dragon is one of those books whose fans I will never understand. I honestly don't see what other Constant Readers see in this one. It's a stinker. One of King's worst. The writing is sophomoric. The plot is stolen from far greater tales. And... *sigh* ... never mind. If you want my review, click the link at the end of this review. Even though I hate this book with every thread of my being, it reminds me of my niece, Alana. Alana, if you ever read this, Uncle E. was reading this the night you were born. You were a very welcome distraction. I ended up finishing this book while at Glamis with your father. They made a bonfire out of Christmas trees. The resulting fireworks were amazing. This one ties in very loosely to the Dark Tower universe. More can be found out in my review. Links below.


The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three reminds me of the time we found out we had a pedophile living on our street and he finally went to jail. I had not read this book, but during this time in my life, I used to enjoy flipping through the pictures. Same goes for The Cycle of the Werewolf. I flipped through those two books so much that by the nineties they had pages falling out of them. Anyway, I attribute this one to the pedo because, after he was caught, his wife sold off all of his books. I bought this one with the money I'd been saving in my Folger's can. My mother had it already, but it was in the Great Book Closet due to the scene in Balthazar's office. Obvious Dark Tower tie-in is obvious.


Misery reminds me of a hilarious fangirl conversation that occurred between my mother and her best friend Andrita. My mother, being the go-with-the-flow gal that she's always been, was not upset in the least that they changed the hobbling scene from ax to sledgehammer for the Rob Reiner movie. Andrita was. They argued over this for almost two hours. I recall sitting on the porch steps of Andrita's home (she was a fan of Virginia Slims and chained smoked; I couldn't stand cigarettes back then because they made me sick to my stomach. Funnily enough I grew up to be a two-pack-a-day smoker. I quit last year). Andrita's son and his partner were barbecuing in the front yard, and I was watching them while listening to the jovial argument in the house. This was in the late 80s, maybe even as late as 1990, and I remember quite vividly, even then, thinking there was nothing wrong with two men being "together". Those two guys seemed so happy. My father made sure to tell me they were "fags" and "queers" during the car ride home, and how he'd kill me if I ever loved a man. Sometimes I wish I had been born gay just so I could have rubbed that shit in dad's face before he died. If you think me a horrible person for saying that, you didn't know my father. There's a Beam reference in Misery. Challenge yourself. See if you can find it.


The Tommyknockers was the last thing I watched with my middle sister before she moved to Illinois. I didn't see her again for ten years, and when we did reunite, we were, of course, completely different people. We don't get along so well these days. This totally-shit movie adaptation makes me remember a time when I was too young to understand just how much religion can change people... for the worse. More on Dark Tower tie-ins in the Ring Around the Tower section below.


The Dark Half brings to the mind the moment I realized my mother was not the infallible fountain of knowledge and experience I believed her to be. When it was revealed that King was Richard Bachman, my mom must've taken a sick day. I knew, my sisters knew... shit, I think even my dad knew. It was on the news every night for a week. It was the big controversy on everyone's lips. Remember when the literary world found out that Robert Galbraith was actually Rowling? Well, that didn't hold a candle to this. People felt wronged, slighted, betrayed. My mother kept right on going in blissful ignorance. Then she read this book. I was nine at the time. She closed it and proceeded to tell me and my father what a load of crap it was. No famous author could ever hide their identity so well. I couldn't believe it. Did I actually know something Mom didn't know? For real? For really real and realsies? When I told her, she balked. This was before the internet, so I had no proof on hand. Luckily, Andrita finally informed my mother I was right. It was a small victory, but a victory all the same. I do not tell you this to make you think I gloated over being smarter than my mother or any other nonsense like that. I tell you because, for the longest time, I thought my mother was perfect, godlike. I think I loved her even more when I found out she was human, just like me. This book is the beginning of an unofficial trilogy: The Dark Half, The Sun Dog, and Needful Things. If you plan on reading all three of these, I suggest doing so in order, you know, for maximum nerdy effect.


The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands reminds me of crashing a moped. I should never have been on the fucking thing. I crashed it straight away, no fucking about. I threw my leg over it, started the engine, pressed the gas, and drove right into the rear end of my neighbor's Oldsmobile. I was thrown up and over (imagine a stunt man rolling over the top of a vehicle in an action film, now take away all style and grace; that was me), but I managed to land on my feet at the front of the car; sprained both ankles in the process. Mom ran me to the ER, where I was significantly braced and reprimanded. During this time, one of the emergency room RNs asked my mother if she'd read King's newest book yet. She said, "No, I didn't even know it was out." The nurse, who knew my mother from her stint in maternity (in case you don't know, my mom is, was, and always will be a nurse; she's worked just about every position a person in that profession can) said "It's one of those Dark Wanderer novels." (Funny the shit you remember word for word, huh?) Afterward, I had to wait in the car outside of the San Bernardino mall while my mother ran in to grab The Waste Lands. Boy, was she fucking pissed at Blain. I think my mother could have boiled water on her cheeks after she finished that one. Once again, obvious Dark Tower tie-in is obvious...


Needful Things is probably the last Stephen King book I read when I started back through his catalog. The idea of Needful Things never really gelled with me. How could a book about a shop in a small New England town possibly warrant over 700 pages? I mean, how much fucking story can you shove into a premise like that? I was stupid, okay. Plum brain-damaged. Anyfuck, this book signifies my completion (the first time, anyway) of King's full catalog. After reading Needful Things in 2005 (2006?) I had successfully read everything the man had published, and vowed to never fall behind again. This is the first time King mentions "fifth business", which is a term he borrowed from another author. He returns to the idea of a character's "fifth business" in his 2014 novel Revival.


Gerald's Game. Oh, this one. I stumbled upon this one and fell in, pubic region first. This was another score from the King book club that my mother didn't know about me reading. I can remember reading whole sections of this book with an expression of WTF on my face. I was around 13, and though I'd become acquainted with my trouser buddy, I didn't really know what he was used for, other than shaking hands with... vigorously... four to twelve times a day... I certainly couldn't understand why anyone would want to be handcuffed while they... did it! The ending scared the bejeebuz out of me simply because I thought all that shit was in the main character's head. When I finally reread this one at the beginning of 2014, I realized that the novel has a bit of genius hidden inside. I also noted the various tie-ins to Dolores Claiborne, which went far over my head when I first read it. In case you don't know, Dolores Claiborne and Gerald's Game are siamese twins connected at the middle. Read both, back to back, starting with Dolores Claiborne for the best experience possible. This is strange, too, because Gerald's Game was published first. Oh, yeah, what does it remind me of? Well, in case you haven't figured it out yet, it reminds me of the time I figured out how to masturbate... It reminds me of masturbation... Yep. I was a very dehydrated teenager.


Dolores Claiborne held the spot of Scariest Novel E. Had Ever Read for quite some time. To this day, I can't think of many scarier circumstances than Dolores's husband trapped in that well. I've told the story about how I came across this book more than three dozen times in interviews and blog posts, so I will not reiterate it here. The short of it is, this book started me on my journey. It started my King fandom. I don't care if you don't consider it horror. It scared the shit out of me, and I loved every minute of it. I believe the moment Dolores and Jessie share is a connection allowed to them by the Beam, and I believe that is due to the Beam-Quake that partially destroyed Gilead. I have proof to back that up, but not until the final decade, friends and neighbors. Patience...


Insomnia. In 1994, my oldest sister moved to Alabama. A year later, she talked my mother into moving there too. I was uprooted, taken away from my school, my friends, and my much traveled city, to live in a new city surrounded by ignorance. I was actually made fun of by the rednecks in my new school because I loved reading. A group of corn-fed motherfuckers jumped me after class one time because I voted that we read over the weekend instead of taking homework home. My ribs were sore for three weeks. I'm lucky they didn't break them, considering I was too ashamed to tell my parents I'd gotten my ass kicked over goddamn literature I might never have seen a doctor. I hated Alabama and all it stood for. I still, to this day, hate living here. But I do. I do because my family is now "southerners". I do because my mother wants to be around her grandkids. I do because I don't know anything else. Anyfuck, I was reading this book when we moved. I read it during the drive across country. It's one of the most powerful memories I have of my youth. My life changed forever after this book. I grew up and hated every minute of it. This book reminds me of how my childhood died. 



Ring Around the Tower:


Spoilers throughout, possibly for every book King has ever written. You have been warned.


Fact: The Dark Tower is referenced in It and Insomnia. The Turtle and Roland, most notably. Thomas and Dennis of The Eyes of the Dragon are mentioned in The Waste Lands. There are references to things being "off the Beam" in Misery, Needful Things, The Dark Tower, and Insomnia.


Theory: So, how do The TommyknockersGerald's Game, and Dolores Claiborne factor into the Dark Tower? Well, let's play a game of Speculation, shall we?


I believe the aliens in The Tommyknockers (Pennywise is included with these, as he introduces himself as Mr. Gray in It) are actually an advanced race of beings that originated in the Prim, they were also referred to as the Great Old Ones, the beings that gave Mid-World the technology it once enjoyed. For more on the Prim and other Mid-World mythology, click HERE. In the Dark Tower series, the Crimson King wishes to release the creatures of the Prim once and for all to bring about destruction. I surmise that, from time to time, something escapes the Prim. Pennywise is one of these creatures, as are the little bald doctors from Insomnia. Now, Tower Aficionados will know that a Beam-Quake was responsible for the destruction of Gilead, and there is another one that occurs in Song of Susannah. Now, other beams snap in between, so why not during the eclipse that occurs during which Dolores Claiborne and Gerald's Game take place. When Dolores looks into the sky and makes the connection with young Jessie in Gerald's Game she sees a ripple in the sky, a section of unreality (not unlike what the sleepy passengers of flight 370 travel through in The Langoliers) in which she glimpses a young girl on her father's lap. What possible connection could these two have? None. They are just two people who happen to see each other through a momentary tear in reality. Bit of a stretch? Maybe. But I have more proof to come in later posts. 


Well, that's its for this decade. Thanks for travelling with me. Until next time, Constant Reader, this is where I cry off. Say thankee sai and goodnight.



It - September 1986

The Eyes of the Dragon - February 1987

The Drawing of the Three - May 1987

Misery - June 1987

The Tommyknockers - November 1987

The Dark Half - October 1989

The Waste Lands - August 1991

Needful Things - October 1991

Gerald's Game - May 1992

Dolores Claiborne - November 1992

Insomnia - September 1994


Short Story Collection:

Skeleton Crew 


Novella Collection:

Four Past Midnight


Shortest Novel:

The Eyes of the Dragon


Personal Favorite:



1,000-Page Novel:



Dark Tower Novels:

The Drawing of the Three

The Waste Lands

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review 2015-02-27 17:25
Eine Tour de Force des psychischen Horrors
Das Spiel - Joachim Körber,Stephen King

Meine Beziehung zum Autor Stephen King ist ein klassischer literarischer Spätzünder. Jahrelang habe ich mich strikt geweigert, seine Bücher zu lesen, weil ich überzeugt war, jemand, der so viel so schnell schreibt, könne nicht auch noch gut schreiben. Und dann kam „ES“. Ich weiß nicht mehr, was mich letztendlich dazu bewogen hat, zu diesem Buch zu greifen; welche äußere Motivation der Anlass war. Innerlich war es für mich eine persönliche Challenge. Ich wollte mich mit meiner Angst konfrontieren, denn schon seit ich ein kleines Mädchen war, fürchte ich mich schrecklich vor Clowns. Nun, meine Angst ist durch dieses Buch nicht besser geworden (eher schlimmer – ich hatte tatsächlich Albträume davon), aber zumindest habe ich meine Vorurteile gegenüber Stephen King hinter mir gelassen. Zugegebenermaßen habe ich bisher noch nicht viele seiner Werke gelesen, weil ich für seine Art des Horrors in einer bestimmten Stimmung sein muss. „Das Spiel“ ist da keine Ausnahme, denn es führt die LeserInnen tief in die Abgründe der Psyche.


Gerald Burlingame möchte mit seiner Ehefrau Jessie eine heiße Nacht voller Leidenschaft und knisternder Erotik verbringen. Deshalb fährt er mit ihr zu ihrem Haus am See – im Oktober lebt niemand mehr in den benachbarten Sommerhäusern, sie sind völlig ungestört. Er fesselt Jessie mit Handschellen ans Bett. Was Gerald über die Maßen erregend findet, ist für Jessie jedoch vor allem erniedrigend und demütigend. Sie möchte bei Geralds „Spiel“ nicht mehr mitmachen. Sie bittet ihn, die Polizeihandschellen zu lösen. Doch ihr Ehemann gibt vor, den Ernst ihrer Worte nicht zu begreifen und weigert sich. In einem wütenden Impuls tritt sie Gerald in Bauch und Leistengegend – und löst einen tödlichen Herzanfall bei ihm aus. So beginnt für Jessie die schlimmste Zeit ihres Lebens: isoliert und hilflos ans Bett gekettet, unfähig, sich mehr als ein paar Zentimeter zu bewegen. Doch das Schlimmste steht ihr noch bevor: nachts ist sie nicht allein…


Aus psychologischer Sicht ist „Das Spiel“ absolut brillant. Ich habe von Anfang an vermutet, dass sich die Handlung hauptsächlich in Jessies Kopf abspielt und das entspricht auch wirklich den Tatsachen. Bedenkt man, dass Stephen King auf diese Weise über 400 Seiten gefüllt hat, ist das schon sehr beeindruckend. Eine Handlung aufzubauen, in der die Protagonistin kaum aktiv handeln kann, sondern sich fast ausschließlich mit ihren Erinnerungen und ihrer eigenen Psyche befasst, zeugt meines Erachtens nach von großer schriftstellerischer Kunst.
Schon von der ersten Seite an nehmen die LeserInnen an Jessies Gedankenwelt teil. Man erlebt, wie sie von ihrem eigenen Ehemann abgestoßen ist und erkennt, dass die Liebe zwischen den beiden schon lange begraben ist. Dass sich Jessie trotzdem auf Geralds „Spiel“ mit den Handschellen einließ, ist trotz dessen durchaus nachvollziehbar: durch Geralds Erregung fühlte sie sich begehrenswert, eine Empfindung, die mit über 40 und nach 20 Jahren Ehe sicher nicht zu unterschätzen ist. Ebenso nachvollziehbar ist Jessies Reaktion auf Geralds Weigerung, die Handschellen zu lösen; de facto plante er, seine Gattin zu vergewaltigen, welche Frau wäre da nicht handgreiflich geworden? Ich gestehe, wirklich leid tat mir Geralds Tod dementsprechend nicht. So erreichen die LeserInnen schnell die Ausgangssituation des Romans: eine hilflose Jessie, die mit Handschellen ans Bett gekettet ist und sich nicht ohne weiteres selbst befreien kann. Da sie sich kaum mit etwas anderem beschäftigen kann, versinkt sie tief in ihrer Psyche. Diese ist deutlich vernarbt durch ein Trauma aus ihrer Kindheit. Man kann es wohl getrost als Ironie des Schicksals bezeichnen, dass Jessie erst das schlimmste Erlebnis ihres Lebens brauchte, um sich mit diesem Trauma auseinander zu setzen. Jahrzehntelang weigerte sie sich, sich mit ihren Erinnerungen zu konfrontieren, doch auf diesem Bett, völlig abgeschottet, kann sie ihnen nicht mehr entkommen. Interessanterweise erhält das Buch auf diese Weise eine zusätzliche Ebene: Jessie liegt nicht nur physisch in Ketten. Psychisch ist sie schon seit diesem verhängnisvollen Tag in ihrer Kindheit in ihrem Inneren gefangen. Umso vertrackter wird die Situation, als Jessie überzeugt ist, nächtlichen Besuch zu haben. Auch für mich verschwommen ab diesem Punkt die Grenzen von Realität und Halluzination, denn schon von Beginn an zweifelte ich an Jessies geistiger Gesundheit. Warum? Nun, das kann ich hier leider nicht verraten. ;)
Unglücklicherweise konnte Stephen King meine Aufmerksamkeit jedoch nicht ununterbrochen fesseln, weshalb ich das Buch nicht ausnahmslos positiv bewerten kann. Die Momente, in denen Jessie nichts tut, sich weder mit ihrer Psyche auseinander setzt, noch daran arbeitet, sich zu befreien, sind reichlich langatmig beschrieben. Das ist schade, aber auch typisch King. Durch diese Seiten muss man sich als LeserIn einfach durchbeißen, denn schlussendlich wird man dafür belohnt.
Natürlich bietet „Das Spiel“ darüber hinaus unglaublich viel Raum für Spekulationen. Ich habe mir sogar Bilder von Polizeihandschellen angesehen, weil mich die Frage, wie ich gehandelt hätte, nicht losließ. Eins kann ich euch verraten: ich hätte vermutlich eine andere Strategie als Jessie ausprobiert, um die verdammten Dinger loszuwerden.


„Das Spiel“ ist eine Tour de Force, deren subtiler Horror fast ausschließlich psychischer Natur ist. Stephen King ließ mich schaudern, indem er mich zwang, mich mit einer Vorstellung auseinander zu setzen, die zwar unwahrscheinlich, aber nichtsdestotrotz realistisch ist. „Das Spiel“ ist durchaus lesenswert, denn es zeigt Stephen King von einer anderen Seite und verdeutlicht, dass Horror nicht immer einen brutalen Mörder oder Übernatürliches braucht. Manchmal sind eine wildgewordene Fantasie und die Abgründe der Psyche völlig ausreichend, um einen eiskalten Schauer zu verursachen.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/stephen-king-das-spiel
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