Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Women in Horror: Gerald's Game

* spoilers *

Jessie Burlingame and her husband Gerald go to their secluded cabin in western Maine to take a romantic weekend together. Recently, Gerald has been spicing up their lovemaking with tying Jessie up that eventually led to handcuffing her. She is growing tired of the game and it makes her feel demeaned, but she goes along with it to make him happy. When they get started, she reaches her limit and demands to be released. Gerald, even knowing her protests are real, pretends to assume it's part of their game and goes to force himself on her. She responds with a double kick to the stomach and groin that leaves Gerald writhing on the floor. He has what looks like a heart attack and dies, leaving Jessie with both hands handcuffed to the bed, the door ajar, and the keys across the room.

Jessie is a typical wife with a typical husband. They've been drifting apart for years and both have regrets about their life as they near middle age. The light bondage in their lovemaking was the first fire they had seen in a long time. Unfortunately, Gerald chose to try to take advantage of her vulnerable position even after years of marriage together and I had no sympathy for his fate. However, Jessie is now trapped with no one expecting her. It could be a week before anyone thinks to look for her. Her world suddenly shrinks. Things across the room, including the keys to the handcuffs, may as well be in another universe as there's no hope of access. Her entire world centers around getting a cup of ice water for a little bit because it's an attainable goal and a necessity. She is at the mercy of anyone or anything that walks into the door.

Jessie isn't alone, not really. In her mind, she has a variety of voices giving commentary, advice, insults, doubts, or raving more and more as time passes and her panic, thirst, and hunger grows. The first voice that makes itself know is the Goodwife of Goody Burlingame, This hyper feminine voice tells her to keep the peace, keep her feelings buried, and go with the flow. She is the voice of what's socially acceptable, even encouraging her to let her husband rape her to keep her normal life. It turns out this voice is the one of herself at age 10, struggling to cope with her father sexually abusing her. That event happened to coincide with the solar eclipse, so her traumatic event seemed to even take the sun away. She had never really processed her feelings about it and kept quiet about it to preserve her family and her parents' already struggling marriage. Through this new traumatic experience, she returns to the eclipse to remember what happened and process her feelings. Looking back, her father had obviously planned it in advance and had taken advantage of Jessie's guilt and confusion to keep her quiet. These feelings, driven by the Goodwife, kept her in an unhappy marriage and isolated from people who cared about her.

The other voices are not as complacent as Goody. The second voice is that of her college roommate Ruth Neary. She is the exact opposite of the Goodwife, brash, direct, and above all honest. Real life Ruth knew Jessie was hiding something and wasn't afraid to push her for the truth. Jessie reacted by abruptly leaving and finding new housing because she didn't want all that stuff to resurface. Ruth's voice is one of the most vocal and gives her much needed reality checks even if it's harsh. Another voice is that of her ex-psychiatrist Nora Callighan who is less vocal, but gives her ways to center herself, calm down, and also unpack her feelings about the suppressed abuse. The real Nora helped her, but got too close to uncovering her past, causing Jessie to push her away as well. The other voices are UFOs that have depraved, weird things to say. They only serve to derail Jessie and keep her from acting with fear.

The horror of the book gets under your skin. She's vulnerable to anyone or anything that walks into the unlocked house. The first thing is a dog that eats pieces of dead Gerald. The second may or may not be real. She calls him a Space Cowboy and sees him only at night. His looks are grotesque with exaggerated features, abnormally long arms, and a box full of bones and jewelry. He smells like death and doesn't speak. Her biggest motivation to escape is this nightmarish creature. The biggest failing of the book is the epilogue type ending that tells you what happens after Jessie escapes. Her attempt to lie about what happened to the police is incredibly dumb especially when the evidence all points to the truth. It would have been scarier to keep the audience wondering if the Space Cowboy was real or not. It's my main criticism of Stephen King in general that he can't just leave things to the imagination and overdefines things at times. The only awesome part of the ending is the hope of Jessie getting on with her life and contacting Ruth to hopefully rekindle their friendship.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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