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One of King’s most harrowing novels, “Gerald’s Game” is a cerebral, contained thriller that’s absolutely devastating in its simplicity.

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Stephen King has had a prolific career, but few decades were as impactful as his run of novels in the 90s. This decade saw the publication of several classics, more hits, and maybe a few doozies. No matter how you see it, King’s 1990s novels defined a decade in the genre.

Perhaps one of the stealthiest feats of storytelling is found in 1992’s Gerald’s Game, a masterclass in suspense and emotional excavation.

Gerald’s Game forgoes the high fantasy and horrifying supernatural overtones of other popular King properties for something far more sinister. Instead, it goes for the jugular, building tension that stems from the gut all the way up to the throat and refuses to let go.

In this harrowing tale of a woman and her will to survive – the horrors persist, but so does Jessie Burlingame.

This is an exceptional novel, though it won’t appeal to the tastes of all readers, whether they’re devout fans of King’s work or not.

Gerald's Game

Fairly self-contained, Gerald’s Game is an escape room of a horror tale that activates the quietest parts of the unconscious, forcing you to interrogate the past and present to find your way forward.

This book does not rely on fast action, massive fires, or buckets of blood to drive the plot forward. Instead, King leverages his unparalleled skills in characterization to fuel, inspire, and propel the characters (well, character) towards their fate.

The cerebral elements of this novel are what gave it a reputation as a completely unadaptable property — until Mike Flanagan’s 2017 film of the same name.

But it is the film’s lack of apparent action where readers can find the most insight, the inspiration, and the most terror.

The book’s protagonist, Jessie Burlingame, is whisked away by her husband for a weekend away. Things quickly go south in every sense of the word when her husband, Gerald, dies of a cardiac incident during a problematic sexual game. Jessie soon finds herself alone and handcuffed to a bed in a remote vacation home, kept company by her husband’s corpse, memories of the woman she used to be, and a few other unexpected visitors.

The true horror of Gerald’s Game lies in the trauma that has shaped Jessie’s entire life, choices, and present circumstances.

This is what makes it one of King’s most chilling, gut-wrenching novels.

There are harrowing depictions of the aftermath of sexual, mental, and emotional abuse. There are elements of external horror sprinkled throughout the novel, but they pale in comparison to the darkness in the heart of man and the brutality it takes to survive the circumstances so many of us face simply by existing in a hungry world.

Gerald’s Game will thrust readers into fight or flight mode, rip the possibility of running away, and force you to fight in any way you can.

In the end, Jessie’s story suggests that even in chains, cuffs, and hopelessness – you can’t keep a good woman down… but for the love of God, let her have a damn glass of water.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5

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