Gerald's Game

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Gerald's Game
First edition cover
AuthorStephen King
IllustratorBill Russell
Cover artistRob Wood
CountryUnited States
Publication date
May 1992
Media typePrint (Hardcover)

Gerald's Game is a 1992 suspense novel by American writer Stephen King.[1] The story is about a woman whose husband dies of a heart attack while she is handcuffed to a bed, and, following the subsequent realization that she is trapped with little hope of rescue, begins to let the voices inside her head take over.

The book is dedicated to King's wife Tabitha and her five sisters. Originally, the book was intended to be a companion piece to King's novel Dolores Claiborne, with the connecting theme of two women in crisis caught in the path of an eclipse, though this aspect was greatly reduced by the time the books were published.[citation needed]

The book was adapted into a 2017 film directed by Mike Flanagan.


Jessie Angela Mahout Burlingame and her husband Gerald, a successful and aggressive lawyer, travel from Portland to their secluded lake house in western Maine near Kashwakamak Lake for a spontaneous romantic getaway. The titular "game" involves handcuffing Jessie to the bed for lovemaking, a recent addition to their marriage that Jessie only pretends to enjoy, though Gerald finds it exciting. This time, however, Jessie finds herself reluctant after being handcuffed to the bedposts and asks to stop, only to be ignored by Gerald, who pretends her protests are only part of their game. Realizing her husband is deliberately feigning ignorance and that he plans to rape her, Jessie lashes out, kicking Gerald in the chest. The shock causes him to have a fatal heart attack. He dies, leaving Jessie still handcuffed to the bed.

At first, Jessie is only horrified at her husband's death and fears the humiliation of being discovered semi-naked and handcuffed, but she quickly realizes the situation is far more dire: it is unlikely that she or Gerald will be missed for several days, no one will think to look for them at the lake house, and all the usual lake residents have gone for the season. There is a real possibility that Jessie will die if she cannot escape.

While Jessie frantically explores and rejects plans, a combination of panic and thirst causes her to hallucinate voices: "The Goodwife" or "Goody Burlingame," a Puritanical version of herself that undermines her escape attempts by insisting things will be fine and that she should wait to be rescued; "Punkin," a representation of Jessie as a 10-year-old girl; Ruth Neary, a college roommate whom Jessie abandoned after a conversation that strayed dangerously close to uncovering Jessie's childhood; and Nora, Jessie's former psychologist, whom Jessie likewise abandoned when Nora questioned Jessie's relationship with her father. Guided by these voices, Jessie realizes that "Goody's" advice to wait for rescue stems from a subconscious belief that she deserves to be trapped in this situation, even if it means her death. When she probes for the reason behind this self-destructive belief, Jessie is able to recall a long-repressed memory of being sexually abused by her father during a solar eclipse when Jessie was ten. Her father manipulated young Jessie into believing that she was complicit, resulting in lifelong feelings of shame and guilt. Jessie also remembers an inexplicable event in the aftermath of the abuse, during which she experienced a momentary psychic connection with an unknown woman. The memories cause Jessie to acknowledge how unhappy and controlling her marriage to Gerald was, leading her to suspect she gave up her independent and courageous spirit for the security of being Gerald's trophy wife.

Waking from an imaginary confrontation with all these characters to a dark bedroom, Jessie sees a tall, gaunt apparition, whom she initially mistakes for the spirit of her long-dead father and whom she nicknames "Space Cowboy" (after a 1969 Steve Miller song, used again later in "The Joker"). The figure shows her a wicker basket of jewelry mixed with human bones. Unsure if the figure is another hallucination, Jessie dismisses it, saying aloud it is "only made of moonlight," which seems to make it vanish. Her inner voices, however, believe the figure is real and that it will return to harm Jessie if she does not escape by the next night.

The following morning, Jessie manages to secure a drink of water from a glass on the bedside table. Refreshed and encouraged by her own ingenuity in getting the water, she renews her efforts to escape, first by trying to break the headboard, then by trying to slip off the bed and push it to the bureau where the keys are placed. Inspired by her memory of the eclipse, in which her father warned her not to cut herself on the smoked glass panes they used as eclipse viewers, Jessie breaks the water glass and uses a sharp shard to slice her wrist, giving herself a degloving injury to lubricate her skin enough to slide her right hand from the cuff. She is then able to escape the bed, reach the keys, and free her other hand, only to faint from blood loss. When she awakens, it is nearly dark and the Space Cowboy, now undeniably real, has returned. Jessie throws her wedding ring at his box of jewelry and bones, thinking that is what he wanted all along. Still dazed and weak with blood loss, she reaches her car and drives away, only to discover the Space Cowboy hidden in the back seat. Jessie crashes and is knocked unconscious.

Months later, Jessie is still recuperating from her ordeal. An attorney at Gerald's law firm assists her in covering up the incident to protect her and the law firm from scandal, but Jessie feels this is another version of burying her trauma, just as she buried her childhood abuse years before. To free herself, Jessie writes to the real Ruth, with whom she has not spoken in decades, detailing what really happened at the lake house and subsequent events. The "Space Cowboy" had turned out to be a serial killer and necrophile named Raymond Andrew Joubert who had been living in and robbing lake houses in the area. Jessie confronted Joubert at his court hearing, where Joubert mocked her "made of moonlight" statement, confirming that the encounter really occurred and causing Jessie to spit in his face. Being able to directly confront the man who once terrified her allowed her to face the other manipulative men in her life, including her father and Gerald, freeing her of fear and allowing her to deal more honestly with her past. She apologizes for abandoning Ruth, acknowledging that Ruth had confronted her with a truth she could not then face, and hopes they can resume their friendship. After mailing the letter, Jessie is able to sleep without nightmares for the first time since her ordeal at the lake house.

Film adaptation[edit]

In May 2014, Deadline Hollywood reported that Mike Flanagan had been set to direct a film adaptation.[2] In an interview with Rue Morgue in September 2016, Flanagan said that the film adaptation would premiere on Netflix.[3] In October 2016, Deadline reported that Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood would star in the film as Jessie and Gerald Burlingame.[4] On October 17, 2016, Flanagan tweeted indicating the first day of production had begun.[5]

The film premiered on Netflix on September 29, 2017.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doniger, Wendy (August 16, 1992). "Shackled to the Past". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Fleming, Mike (2014-05-19). "Cannes: Stephen King Novel 'Gerald's Game' To Be Adapted By 'Oculus' Helmer Mike Flanagan And Intrepid Pictures". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  3. ^ "Rue Morgue". Rue Morgue. Archived from the original on 2016-10-15. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  4. ^ Fleming, Mike (2016-09-17). "Carla Gugino & Bruce Greenwood Star In Stephen King's 'Gerald's Game' For Netflix". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  5. ^ @flanaganfilm (17 October 2016). ""Day 1! Off to the races. #geraldsgame"" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

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