The Gingerbread Girl
|"The Gingerbread Girl"|
North American CD audiobook cover
Just After Sunset
|Publication date||July 2007 (first publication)|
"The Gingerbread Girl" is a novella by Stephen King that was originally published in the July 2007 issue of Esquire. It was later included in King's Just After Sunset collection in 2008. "The Gingerbread Girl" was also released as an audiobook, read by Mare Winningham, by Simon & Schuster Audio on May 6, 2008. The title is an allusion to the fairy tale "The Gingerbread Boy" (also known as "The Gingerbread Man").
After her only daughter Amy suffers a crib death, Emily takes up running as a way to deal with her pain. She believes that "only fast running will do"—she pushes her body to its limits, often vomiting and sweating profusely. Her husband, Henry, finds out about this habit, and treats it as a psychological reaction to grief. Emily is hurt and runs out of the house, down to a local Holiday Inn. She contacts her father and explains her situation; after their conversation, Emily decides to stay in her father's summer home, near Naples, Florida. (She takes Southwest Air to the Naples Airport, even though Naples Airport is a private airport, without commercial service.) She also speaks with Henry, and the two agree that a trial separation is a good idea.
Emily's life becomes quite simple—she eats plain meals and runs for miles every day. As her body shrinks, she gets to know the few people that hover around the island; Vermillion Key is mostly devoid of tourists. The only person Emily regularly contacts is Deke Hollis, an old friend of her father who runs the drawbridge on the island. During a chance meeting, Hollis tells Emily that Jim Pickering, one of the men who owns a home on the island, is back. He has brought along a "niece"—Hollis's polite name for the young women Pickering lures to his home. Emily prepares to continue, but Hollis warns her that Pickering is "not a very nice man."
As Emily continues her daily run, she notices a shiny red car outside one of the "McMansions" along the beach. She deduces that it must be Pickering's car, and must satisfy her curiosity—which turns to concern as she hears a low moan coming from around the vehicle. Emily cautiously approaches...and notices a trail of blood running toward the trunk. She sees a young woman lying in the car with her throat slashed, meaning that she could not have made the groaning noise she heard. The moment she reaches this conclusion, though, someone cracks her on the back of the head.
When Emily awakens, she finds herself imprisoned on a kitchen chair with duct tape. Pickering stands before her, licking his lips and acting excited. He is particularly aroused by Emily's powerful legs, which have become lean and muscular due to her continued runs. Emily realizes that Pickering is insane, and hints that she let someone know where she was going. When Pickering presses her for details, Emily blurts out Deke Hollis's name; Pickering leaves, presumably to kill the old man.
Emily knows that she does not have much time, and hears her father's voice in her head, giving her advice. She uses her strong legs to splinter the tape that binds her; the pain is excruciating, but she manages to free her lower body. She looks for a knife to release her arms, but settles on the corner of the island in the middle of the kitchen. She undoes all of her restraints just as Pickering returns.
Emily fights Pickering in the kitchen, using the broken legs of the chair to attack. After temporarily knocking him out, she runs through the house, eventually stumbling into the bedroom. She hears Pickering chasing her, and realizes the only way out is to jump out of the window. Emily again recalls her father's advice from her youth—"Gravity is everyone's mother"—and leaps. She runs to the beach and hears Pickering behind her, and realizes, in a rather odd coincidence, that she has been "training" for this moment.
Though exhausted from her imprisonment, Emily's months of running serve her well. She keeps well ahead of Pickering, who now carries a pair of scissors as a weapon. She eventually meets a young Latino man on the beach, and begs for help, but he does not understand her cries. Pickering appears and tries to use Spanish to convince the man that Emily is with him, but Emily's fearful expression convinces the young man otherwise. He pushes Emily behind him; incensed, Pickering brutally slaughters the man with the scissors.
Emily, tiring quickly, runs into the ocean. Pickering follows her, but begins to flounder. Emily gasps as she figures out what is happening—Pickering cannot swim. Emily manages to escape him, and sits on the shoreline watching as Pickering drowns. When he finally goes under, Emily tells herself that a shark or some other creature attacked him. She wonders why, and guesses that it is a part of the human condition. Her long ordeal over, Emily stands and shouts at the birds flying about, and prepares to go home.
A review in The Observer says the story is "reminiscent of Misery". A review in the San Francisco Chronicle calls it "a harrowing almost-novella, [which] anchors the book and bridges the inner-psyche thrillers of King's 1990s work with his more recent stories. A story of abuse, psychosis and loneliness, it is physically exhausting to read — an astounding thing to say for a short work of fiction." A reviewer in the Toronto Star calls it "a flat-out suspense novella that could have been penned by Richard Bachman, King's literary alter ego ...[in which] bloody chaos ensues."
Connection to King's other works
- "New Stephen King thriller coming to Esquire". MSNBC. June 11, 2007.
- Louise France (November 16, 2008). "Horror lurks in the humdrum". The Observer.
- Ted Anthony (November 14, 2008). "Latest King stories about twilight, not darkness". San Francisco Chronicle.
- James Grainger (November 30, 2008). "Still one of the most readable: Stephen King is in his best short story form in decades". Toronto Star.
- King, Stephen (1994). Insomnia. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-85503-2.
- King, Stephen (1992). Gerald's Game. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-84650-4.