The We Three Kings book club chose this one as their new year title and… there have been mixed feelings. While we don’t meet until this coming Monday to properly discuss it – and watch the Mike Flanagan movie adaptation – I still wanted to review it for the blog.
I’d really like to focus on reading more now this one’s under my belt and a quick glance at Goodreads shows me I’ve only read two books out of my 35 book goal – which looks like I have to do a book a week until the end of the year. Sure, Jan, I’ll get right on that.
Anyway, to this story. It’s a doozy.
A game. A husband and wife game. Gerald’s Game.
But this time Jesse doesn’t want to play. Lying there, spread-eagled and handcuffed to the bedstead while he looms and drools over her, she feels angry and humiliated. So she kicks out hard. Aims to hit him where it hurts.
He isn’t meant to die, leaving Jesse alone and helpless in a lakeside holiday cabin. Miles from anywhere. No-one to hear her screams.
Alone. Except for the stray dog that smells her blood, the voices in her head which begin to chatter, and the board which creaks stealthily at nightfall, signalling that something or someone else is close by.
Author: Stephen King
*No intentional spoilers*
TW: sexual abuse, gore, animal cruelty
First of all: UGH. Secondly, when I shared on social media that I was settling down to this, two women I know messaged me separately to say this was by far the hardest Stephen King book they’d ever read – and that they’d never go back. In addition, Matt (of We Three Kings) decided to respectfully opt out of re-reading it, although he’ll be part of the discussion and film screening. Now I’ve finished I absolutely understand all those comments and decisions.
It’s a lot.
The fact it took me several months to read just over 300 pages is very telling. I may have mentioned this before, but my favourite place to read is soaking in the bath. These days that’s the only time I really read – and if the book isn’t one I look forward to, I’m less likely to make time to do it. Like anyone. This was well-written and a good story but its subject matter is heavy and unpleasant – and I dragged my heals for two months.
Jesse is married to Gerald, a lawyer, who has a new favourite sex game which involves police-grade handcuffs. More than willing to spice up their sex life to begin with, Jesse is starting to regret their joint decision to take an impromptu trip to the couple’s holiday home by the lake. No longer into the handcuff play, Jesse expresses her doubts to an overexcited Gerald, who seems oblivious to her reluctance. Or is he pretending he hasn’t noticed? This thought scares Jesse deeply and she lashes out, which leads to a very unfortunate series of events which could cost her her life. Or at the very least, her sanity.
When she finds herself cuffed to the bed with a dead Gerald on the floor next to her, Jesse has no option but to try and get out. But the house is so isolated and honestly, things aren’t looking good. Or so the multiple voices in her head would have her believe. As the good wife version of her psyche battles with the voice of her old best friend Ruth and the ‘real Jesse’, it soon becomes clear that getting out of this sticky situation might be the least of her issues. And when “The Space Cowboy” shows up, things take even more of a turn. Will she make it?
Well, I won’t spoil the book here but I will say that Jesse has trauma from her childhood that rears its ugly head as soon as she finds herself alone. While she’s spent her life turning her head from a specific incident, the course of her life has definitely been influenced by it. Is she ready to face her demons? I mean, is there another choice because I’m sure we’d all gobble it up if there was. Alas, this is Stephen King’s story and he’s not one to take the easy way out – and what follows is a battle of wits (mostly against herself) as Jesse focuses on getting the fuck out of Dodge. With time ticking against her and a hungry stray called Prince stalking Gerald’s corpse for dinner, it’s a bad scene all round.
Again, I have no issue with the story, the setting, Jesse or the way this book is written. King as always nails it all – it’s just so icky and the subject matter is really hard to stomach. I love the flashback format and the use of the multiple voices in Jesse’s head. I really identify with that inner struggle (Jesus, I recently read that there are people who don’t have this, which is wild to me). Jesse reflects on a friendship gone sour, her marriage (also not in the best shape) and life ambitions – I actually felt excited for Jesse’s next chapter after Gerald’s death. I mean, if she could only get free…
It’s just not a lot of fun and that’s the bottom line for me. The issues of Jesse’s life are very human and King does a good job of framing these as just as terrifying as the boogeyman who lurks in the shadows, if not more so.
– Genre: Horror
– My score: 3/5
– Pages: 332
– First published May 1992