King, Stephen: Gerald's Game
(researched by Madeleine Simpson)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Stephen King. Gerald’s Game. New York, New York: Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 1992.

Copyright © Stephen King, 1992

Parallel First Editions- London: Penguin Books Ltd. London, Victoria: Penguin Books Australia Ltd., Toronto: Penguin Books Canada Ltd., Auckland: Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd.

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

First American edition published in hardcover

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

176 leaves, pp. [16] 1-332 [4]

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

The book is neither edited or Introduced. The fifth unnumbered page has a list of works also by Stephen King.

The ninth unnumbered page is a dedication, which states: This book is dedicated, with love and admiration, to six good women: | Margaret Spruce Morehouse  Anne Spruce Labree | Catherine Spruce Graves  Tabitha Spruce King | Stephanie Spruce Leonard  Marcella Spruce

The eleventh unnumbered page has the quote: {Sadie} gathered herself together. No one could describe | the scorn of her expression or the contemptuous hatred | she put into her answer. | “You men! You filthy dirty pigs! You’re all the | same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!” | – W. Somerset Maugham, | ‘Rain’

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

The book is illustrated by Bill Russell. The sixth and seventh unnumbered pages are facing each other and form a two-page illustrated title page composed of a high-contrast drawing of a cabin in the woods, overlooking a lake, with a large full moon in the sky. The title is overlaying the image on the seventh unnumbered page, in a black box with white text and an image of a total eclipse corona.


 On the 13th unnumbered page there is a map of Maine that shows the 1963 total eclipse path, done by Virginia Norey.


Additionally, there are small (33mm x 33mm) vignette illustrations by Bill Russell at the beginnings (and once at the end in the case of pp. 280) of each chapter on pages 1, 21, 33, 41, 48, 52, 54, 58, 67, 92, 107, 118, 119, 134, 136, 146, 155, 156, 169, 175, 180, 182, 190, 196, 203, 212, 219, 229, 231, 234, 238, 247, 255, 264, 280, 281, 292, 310, 325, 329, 330, and they, respectively, depict: handcuff keys, a handcuff attached to a frame, light beam hitting a wood floor through a window, a handcuff attached to a frame, a full moon over a lake in the woods, light beam hitting a wood floor through a window, a dog baring its teeth and drooling, a dog baring its teeth and drooling, a glass of water, a glass of water, a total eclipse corona, a dog baring its teeth and drooling, a basket of bones and jewelry, light beam hitting a wood floor through a window, a full moon over a lake in the woods, a total eclipse corona, a handcuff attached to a frame, a total eclipse corona, light beam hitting a wood floor through a window, a glass of water, a total eclipse corona, a handcuff attached to a frame, handcuff keys, a basket of bones and jewelry, a handcuff attached to a frame, light beam hitting a wood floor through a window, a full moon over a lake in the woods, a total eclipse corona, a handcuff attached to a frame, a glass of water, a glass of water, handcuff keys, light beam hitting a wood floor through a window, a basket of bones and jewelry, two pairs of closed handcuffs, an open pair of handcuffs, a dog baring its teeth and drooling, a basket of bones and jewelry, a basket of bones and jewelry, a total eclipse corona, and a full moon over a lake in the woods.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

Size of page: 245mm. x 152 in. Size of text: 180mm x 113mm. Size of type: 102R

Margins above the text and on the left and right sides are about 20mm, the margin beneath the text is about 35 mm. There is approximately a 2mm space between lines. And the text is primarily set I Garamond No. 3. Most of the text has serifs, though there is a portion that is supposed to represent the protagonist writing on a computer that is sans serif. The text is quite easy to read due to its large size and ample spacing on the page. The illustrations at the chapter beginnings are inset with the first four lines of the chapters and do not impede readability. Additionally, the first letter of each chapter is in the same font but is approximately three times the normal type size. New Chapters are introduced by a 30mm break and the number of the chapter which is approximately 5mm high, and in an outline version of the font.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The book is entirely composed of wove, white paper and has a straight edge. The book is in very good condition with essentially no damage to the pages.

11 Description of binding(s)

The binding is composed of medium black board, with medium black quarter cloth, in a crisscross grain extending approximately 33mm from spine. Note: the medium shade of black could be due to age.

The front cover has “SK” in stamped in red gilt. The Spine has “Stephen King” and “Gerald’s Game” in red gilt vertically, and “Viking” in red gilt horizontally. In between “Stephen King” and “Gerald’s Game” there is an image of a total eclipse corona in silver gilt.

There are medium black end papers in the front and back of the book.

My copy of the book is missing its dust jacket, but the first editions did come with a dust jacket.

12 Transcription of title page

Recto:  [within a sected compartment of Bill Russell illustration] STEPHEN | KING | Gerald’s | Game | [illustration of total eclipse corona] | Viking

Verso: Viking | Published by the Penguin Group | Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., | 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. | Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England | Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia | Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Suite 300, | Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4v 3B2 | Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190Wairau Road, | Auckland 10, New Zealand | Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England | First Published in 1992 by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. | 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 | Copyright © Stephen King, 1992 | Illustrations copyright © Bill Russell, 1992 | All rights reserved | PUBLISHERS NOTE | This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product | of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual | persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. | Grateful acknowledgement is made for permission | to reprint excerpts from the following copyrighted works: | “Can I Get a Witness,” by Eddie Holland, Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier. Published | by Stone Agate Music, © 1963. All rights reserved. Used by permission. | “Space Cowboy,” lyrics and music by Steve Miller and Ben Sidran. © 1969 Sailor Music. | Used by permission. All rights reserved. | “The Talkin’ Blues,” words and music by Woodie Guthrie. TRO–© Copyright 1988 | Ludlow Music, Inc., New York, N.Y. Used by permission. | “Come now, my child,” from But Even So, by Kenneth Patchen. Copyright 1968 by | Kenneth Patchen. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. | LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATOLOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA | King, Stephen | Gerald’s game / by Stephen King | p.  cm. | ISBN 0-670-84650-3 | I. Title. | PS3561.I483G47  1992 | 813’ .54—dc20  91-47628 | Printed in the United States of America by Book Press, Inc. | Designed by Amy Hill  -  Set in Garamond No. 3  ~  Map by Virginia Norey | Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this | publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval | system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, | photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission | of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

No information could be found on manuscript holdings

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Front fly leaf has small Viking ship image printed on it.

Dust jacket features “STEPHEN KING” in large black letter’s, and “GERALD’S GAME” in large, red, brush-stroke letters set over an image of handcuffs attached to the headboard of a bed. The front, inside flap of the dust jacket includes a review and a brief description of the story. The back inside flap continues the story description, then gives a very brief biography of Stephen King, and gives the publisher information.

Image for cover art is from “Gerald's Game Book. Stephen King. FIRST EDITION First Printing. Vintage Book circa 1992 w Dust Jacket. Viking Penguin. Book Lover Gift.” Vintage Bookworms,

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Yes, they released an advance uncorrected proof edition that was 303 pages, a 332 page Braille edition, a 445 page edition, a 441 page edition, and a 3M Cloud Library eBook edition.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

First edition printings: 1,500,000. (Source: Publisher’s Weekly)

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

London : BCA, 1992. 332 pages

New York, N.Y. : Signet Books, 1992, 1993. – 445 pages

New York, NY : Signet/New American Library, 1995.- 445 pages

New York [etc.] : New American Library, 1992, 1993. – 445 pages

London Hodder & Stoughton, 1992. - Presentation Book Proof, 348 pages

London : New English library, 1992, 1993.-394 pages

[Hingham, Ma.] : Wheeler Pub., 1992. 1993. – Large print edition, 447 pages
Sevenoaks, Kent : New English Library : Hodder and Stoughton, 1993.- 394 pages

London : Royal National Institute of the Blind, 2004. – computer audiobook read by Lorelei King

London : Hodder Paperbacks, 2008, 2011. - 417 pages

Workman Pub Co 2008,
London : Hodder Paperback : [distributor] Bookpoint, 2008. 432 pages

Hodder & Stoughton General Division, 2011. – 432

New York Gallery Books, 2016. ©1992. – 468 pages, trade paperback edition
New York, NY : Scribner, 2016.-eBook

New York, NY : Pocket Books, 2016. – 468 pages, paperback edition.

6 Last date in print?

Still in print. Last edition was 2016 (see no. 5).

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

not available

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

not available. 

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

$750,000 was spent on ad/promo (Source: Publisher’s Weekly). Advertised with the title and then the caption “A different kind of bedtime story…”

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

“What promotion is scheduled for this bestselling author? If you’re the King you don’t need to do much. In fact, all that’s schedule is an appearance on NPR.” -Publisher’s Weekly

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Gerald’s Game was made into a film of the same title that was directed by Mike Flanagan and released via Netflix in September 29, 2017

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

Spanish: El juego de Gerald, translated by María Vidal. México : Random House Mondadori : Debolsillo, 2004, 2005, 2006. El juego de Gerald, translated by María Vidal, [Barcelona] RBA, 2004. El juego de Gerald, Barcelona Grijalbo Mondadori, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2001. El juego de Gerald, translated by María Vidal. Barcelona: Orbis, 1997. El juego de Gerald, translated by María Vidal, Barcelona : Círculo de Lectores, 1993.

Italian: Il gioci di Gerald, translated by Tullio Dobner. Milano: Sperling paperback, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007. Il gioci di Gerald, translated by Tullio Dobner [Milano] : A. Mondadori, 1996. Il gioci di Gerald  (no translator given) Milano : Club degli editori, 1994, 1995, 1996. . Il gioci di Gerald  (no translator given). S.l.: Edizione Club, 1993.

French: Jessie. Translated by Mimi and Isabelle Perrin. Paris : Librairie Générale Française, impr. 2001, 2004, 2011. Jessie. Translated by Mimi and Isabelle Perrin. Paris : J'ai lu, 1995, 1996. Jessie. Translated by Mimi and Isabelle Perrin. Paris : France loisirs, 1993, 1994. Jessie. Translated by Mimi and Isabelle Perrin. Paris : Albin Michel, 1993. Jessie. Translated by Mimi and Isabelle Perrin. Paris: Le Grand livre du mois, 1993.

Polish: Gra Geralda. Translated by Tomasz Wyżyński. Warszawa : Wydawnictwo Albatros - Andrzej Kuryłowicz, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015, 2016. Gra Geralda. Translated by Tomasz Wyżyński. Warszawa : Świat Książki, 1995. Gra Geralda. Translated by Tomasz Wyżyński. Warszawa : Wydawnictwo Prima, 1994.

Danish: Gerald’s farlige leg. (translator not given). Kbh.: Lindhardt og Ringhof, 2010. Gerald’s farlige leg. (translator not given). [Kbh.] : Aschehoug, 2007. Gerald’s farlige leg. Translated by Mogens Wenzel Andreasen. Kbh. : Vinten : [Eksp. DBK], 1997. Gerald’s farlige leg. Translated by Mogens Wenzel Andreasen. Kbh.: Paperback Bogklubben, 1996. Gerald’s farlige leg. Translated by Mogens Wenzel Andreasen. Kbh.: Artia, 1994.

Russian: Igra Džeralda. Translated by T. Pokidaevoj and M. Kozyreva. Moskva: Izdatelʹstvo AST, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2017. Posledni︠a︡i︠a︡ igra Dzheralda. (translator not given). Tallinn: "Rimol", 1995.

Portuguese: Jogo perigoso. Translated by Lia Wyler. Rio de Janeiro : Objetiva, 1992, 2000, 2001. O Jogo de Gerald. Translated by Lidia Geer. Lisboa: Circulo de Leitores, 1992, 1997. O Jogo de Gerald. Translated by Luis Nazare. Portugal : Bertrand editora, 1994.

Hungarian: Bilincsben. Translated by Judit Szanto. Budapest : Európa Könyvkiadó, 1994, 2006.

Swedish: Geralds lek. Translated by  Lennart Olofsson. Stockholm: Natur och kultur, 1994, 1996

Czech: Geraldova hra. Translated by Buška Bryndová. Praha : Melantrich, 1996. Geraldova hra. Translated by Buška Bryndová. Praha : Beta-Dobrovský : Knižní klub, 2001. Geraldova hra. Translated by Buška Bryndová. Praha : Beta, 2010.

Turkish: Oyun. Translated by Gönül Suveren. İstanbul : Altın Kitaplar Yayınevi, 1993, 2008.

Finnish: Julma Leikki. Translated by Heikki Karjalainen. Helsinki : Tammi, 1992, 1993.

Icelandic: Háskaleikur. Translated by Guðbrandur Gíslason. Reykjavik : Fróði, 1993.

Dutch: Gerald’s Game. (no translator given). S.l. : s.n, 2009.

German: Gerald’s Game. (no translator given). New Englisch Library 1992.

Greek: To paichnidi tou Tzeralnt. Translated by Vanessa A. Lampa. To Κλειδι, Athēna : To Kleidi, 1993.

Slovak: Geraldova hra, Bratislava : IKAR, 1997 (translator not given).

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A


15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

No sequels or prequels, but his book Dolores Claiborne was described as a “companion” to Gerald’s Game.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

The biography of Stephen King is available on the web, and in other entries for his works within this database. For this reason, I will write only the details of his life that pertain to Gerald’s Game. Stephen King was born and raised in Maine, and it is where he currently resides. This is very likely the explanation for Maine as the setting of Gerald’s Game, and many of King’s other novels.

King’s father, Donald, abandoned the family when Stephen was only two years old, and his mother was left to raise the children on her own. It is not unlikely that his absent father was part of the inspiration for the cruel male characters in Gerald’s Game (Jesse’s husband and father). Further, his mother may have been inspiration for the strong female lead, however, King dedicates the novel to his wife Tabitha, whom he met at the University of Maine, and the other women in her life,

“… King’s dedication may reflect upon himself as well as his wife; all these Spruce women have also exerted a shaping influence on King himself, as a writer and as a male. It’s a simple acknowledgment of domestic evolution: after enough years a husband comes to understand that his own life owes a debt to the wife—and to female relatives—with whom he has chosen to live” (Magistrale, American Writers).


After writing many popular books, King received criticism for the lack of dimension in his depiction of women, and he agreed with the criticism. Because of his awareness of this issue, “… this self-criticism inevitably led to the writing of Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne, which both depict women standing up against a world that tries to reduce their status as human beings” (Davis, Contemproary Literary Criticism).

Stephen King used his family to help him ensure the believability of his books. In an interview King recalls:

“Going into that book, I remember thinking that Jessie would have been some sort of gymnast at school, and at the end of it she would simply put her feet back over her head, over the bedstead, and wind up standing up. About forty pages into writing it, I said to myself, I'd better see if this works. So I got my son--I think it was Joe because he's the more limber of the two boys--and I took him into our bedroom. I tied him with scarves to the bedposts. My wife came in and said, What are you doing? And I said, I'm doing an experiment, never mind.

Joe tried to do it, but he couldn't. He said, My joints don't work that way… I'm saying, Jesus Christ! This isn't going to work! And the only thing you can do at that point is say, Well, I could make her double-jointed. Then you go, Yeah, right, that's not fair.”

This interaction with his son helped him to create a more realistic book and shows how his own life can influence his writing.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

When the book came out, reviewers had a similar overall message. Most reviewers noted that King’s writing skills, and his ability to create horrific scenes were both evident, however, they also agreed that in terms of the actual narrative elements, the work was weak. Publisher’s Weekly said “While this is one of the best-written stories King has ever published, it will offend many through sheer bad taste… The gory stuff--how Jessie escapes her handcuffs, for example--is prime King, but this is subsumed in the book's general tastelessness. A lame wrap-up to what might have been a thrilling short story only further compromises the enjoyment readers might have found in this surprisingly exploitative work” (Publisher’s Weekly). Publisher’s Weekly also mentioned Gerald’s Game as a point of comparison in their reviews of King’s other novel, Dolores Claiborne, and Koontz’s novel Intensity:

“Described by the publisher as a companion piece to King's last book, Gerald's Game, this new novel surpasses it in every way, and shows that King, even without the trappings of horror and suspense, is a magnificent storyteller whose greatest strength has always been characterization.” (Publisher’s Weekly).

 “And just as Gerald's Game reinvigorated King's career and writing, this masterful, if ultimately predictable, exercise in high tension should do the same for Koontz's” (Publisher’s Weekly). Both of these reviews seemed to agree that Gerald’s Game is not the greatest novel. The first points out that it is vastly inferior to its companion novel, while the other states that it is ultimately predictable, though it does compliment King’s writing style.

In the New York Times book review Wendy Doniger points out King’s successful creation of horror, but his failure to properly address the issues of the book stating, “This reductionist psychologizing is reminiscent of those old Hollywood psychodramas in which the heroine suddenly recalls a repressed episode, leaps out of her wheelchair and cries out: ‘Oh, doctor! Look! I can walk again!’” She also goes on to discuss the incompatibility of the two major elements of the book, “The two genres cancel each other out: the horror makes us distrust the serious theme, and the serious theme stops us from suspending our disbelief to savor the horror. Mr. King seems to be handcuffed to his old technique, the tried-and-true formula, but perhaps it is now time for him to break loose from his own past.” (Doniger, The New York Times). The Washington Post had very similar critiques to the New York Times, saying, “in Gerald's Game King is more successful at making monsters monstrous than at making emotions felt. The wild, exaggerated horror of Jessie's ordeal becomes burlesque at points, and his talent for the absurd inclusion of pop culture -- Jessie's imagining her plight televised on "A Current Affair," for example -- overwhelms the horror of child abuse, ultimately undoing his efforts to make those older terrors real.” (Harrison, The Washington Post). Overall, reviewers at the time seemed to feel that Gerald’s Game showed that King had not lost the ability to write horror, but that the book was not executed as well as it could have been due to his attempt to tackle too much within the novel.

Cronin. “Gerald's Game.” Publisher's Weekly, 31 Aug. 1992,

 “Dolores Claiborne.” Publisher's Weekly, 4 Jan. 1993,

Doniger, Wendy. “Shackled to the Past.” The New York Times Books, The New York Times, 16 Aug. 1992,

Harrison, Kathryn. “THE TIES THAT BIND.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 July 1992,

Knopf, Alfred A. “Intensity.” Publisher's Weekly, 1 Jan. 1996,

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

In more recent years, the commentary on Gerald’s Game has been similar to the reviews that came out at the time of its publication. There is a little more appreciation for the novel, and more recognition of the feminist effort that the novel makes, though reviews still agree that King attempted to much, and weakened the novel in the end. In his biography of Stephen King, Tony Magistrale discusses the feminist angle of Gerald’s Game and how that made it a sronger novel saying, “Gerald’s Game and Misery are two of the most complex and ambitious efforts King has yet undertaken” (Magistrale, Gale Literary Sources). While Richard Bleiler, James Smythe,a nd Grady Hendrix all agree that King was not able to end the novel well:

“Gerald’s Game would be one of King’s finest novels were it not for his inability to end it convincingly.” (Bleiler, Supernatural Fiction Writers: Contemporary Fantasy and Horror.)

“The Space Cowboy – a mixture of Jessie's imagination and a real serial killer – is pretty much the strongest example of deus ex machina in his entire oeuvre. The character exists solely to give Jessie the impetus to free herself, and it pretty much ruins the ending. Now, reading it, I want King to see this through. Don't introduce the bullshit weirdness: stick with Jessie and what's truly affecting” (Smythe, The Guardian).

“Gerald’s Game (May, 1992) and Dolores Claiborne (November, 1992) were about the development of feminist consciousness, the crimes of the patriarchy, incest, and domestic abuse… King turns in 200 pages whose intensity would be hard to rival, by King or anyone else. Unfortunately, it’s a 420 page book. Ultimately, what reduces the status of this book to B-list King is not too much ambition, but too little” (Hendrix, Tor).

These more recent reviews show how critics seem to appreciate the feminist effort on King’s part more today than they did at the time of publishing, but they still remain unsatisfied with how King executed the plot.


Bleiler, Richard. “Introduction.” Supernatural Fiction Writers: Contemporary Fantasy and Horror (2nd Edition). New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons 2003. 2 Vols, vol. 2, no. 2, 2003, pp. 525–537.

Hendrix, Grady. “The Great Stephen King Reread: Gerald's Game.”, MacMillan, 24 Mar. 2015,

Magistrale, Tony. “King, Stephen 1947—.” Gale Literary Sources, Gale, 2000,¤tPosition=4&docId=GALE%7CCX1381800016&docType=Biography%2C+Critical+essay&sort=RELEVANCE&contentSegment=&prodId=GLS&contentSet=GALE%7CCX1381800016&searchId=R1&userGroupName=viva_uva&inPS=true.

Smythe, James. “Rereading Stephen King, Chapter 30: Gerald's Game.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 July 2014,

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

Gerald’s Game is a best-selling novel from the extremely successful author, Stephen King. Its first edition printed 1,500,000 copies when it was published back in 1992, and it is still in print today, now accompanied by a movie version that came out in September, 2017. There are many factors that can contribute to a novel becoming a best-seller and being written by Stephen King is one of them. Stephen King has written more than 50 novels in his career (some under a pen name) and all of them have been bestsellers (Simon & Schuster). Since his first best-selling novel, Carrie (written in 1974), he has continued to release novels, short story collections, and/or other types of writing every year (with a few exceptions), sometimes releasing multiple in a single year. He produces an incredible amount of reading material and his massive fan base consumes all of it, without fail. One Washington Post journalist, Karen Heller writes,

“He didn’t sell 350 million books through wishful thinking or banking on the prior success of “Misery” or “The Green Mile.” This year, he published what might take another author a decade or more to produce: a novel, a contribution to an essay collection, a children’s book and two short stories. He’ll have another novel next year. They’re all a sure way to keep King a king among readers, and have him dancing atop the bestseller list where he lives.”

His constant writing keeps his fans engaged, but there are reasons beyond his rapid output that contribute to the success of his books. Many authors have had hit bestsellers, but not many have been unable to hold the public’s interest for over 40 years like King has. By taking a closer look at the elements that make up Gerald’s Game, I will show just what can make a bestseller a bestseller, specifically looking at the themes, complex characterization, and strategic plot structure.

            When Gerald’s Game was released, it was clear that it was a different type of Stephen King novel. The majority of King’s novels up until this point featured male protagonists. In his stories, he wrote men very well, but rarely wrote women as main characters, and when he did they were often psychotic. Gerald’s Game was a change because the story is all about a woman, and she serves as a strong, and likable lead. Critics note this feminist element of the book and how it was a change for King (see reception history). We get a very thorough and interesting look into her character and the innerworkings of her mind. We also see a criticism of men and how they treat women. This somewhat feminist turn for Stephen King comes at a very relevant time, as 1992 was a time when women were making big strides. Susan Milligan made a timeline of the feminist movement on U.S. News and World Report where she cites 1992 as, “The Year of the Woman: Following 1991 hearings in which lawyer Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, record numbers of women are elected to Congress, with four women winning Senate elections and two dozen women elected to first terms in the House.” This female-powered novel comes out right after a case that got most of America talking about men sexually harassing women, and within a time where women are starting to establish their power in society. This book’s topical relevancy made it a welcome read for 1992 America.

The theme of female strength emerges very early in the book. The initial pages of the book show Jessie telling her husband that she no longer wants to partake in the sex game that he is playing, and when he decides to continue without her consent, she asserts herself by kicking him in the groin to get him off her. This is what causes the heart attack that kills him. This early scene shows the importance of consent, that a woman should be able to withdraw her consent at any point, the nefariousness of ignoring a woman who is saying no, and the power that women can have. While she initially triumphs over her cruel husband, she remains handcuffed to the bed (which was part of his game). This leads to the real beginning of her nightmare situation. Her remaining trapped by her husband even when he has died speaks to the vicious reaches of the patriarchal system. It continues to show how much this malicious system has trapped Jessie when her father’s sexual abuse of her as a child is revealed. The effects of this have remained in her mind and have affected her whole life. The voice of “Goodwife Burlingame,” a voice that represents the ideal housewife/soft-spoken woman that Jessie has felt she had to be for years, shows an internalization of the patriarchy that has shaped Jessie’s behavior and her relationship to her husband and father. In this terrifying situation she is finally able to push back against this voice and it is the female voices in her head of her college friend and her former therapist that help her to get through the ordeal. The book shows Jessie mentally working through her troubled relationship with her husband, and her traumatizing past with her father, and her eventual escape from the handcuffs seems to represent a physical embodiment of her freeing herself from the shackles of patriarchy in her past. This story of female resilience was very in tune with the times, and likely led many readers to feel a continuing admiration for King’s writing as he displays his widened characterization abilities.

Another aspect of this novel that is different from his previous novels is the extremely limited setting and number of characters. The book, with the exception of the very beginning (before Gerald dies) and the very end, takes place entirely in a bedroom and has only one human character (with the exception of the “Space Cowboy” who is not really characterized and is thought to be a hallucination for the entire time that Jessie is trapped). Stephen King challenges his own writing abilities and creates a unique experience for the reader by having the vast majority of the book tell what is taking place inside of Jessie’s head. Jessie’s memories and flashbacks as well as her mental projections of voices inside her head drive the plot of the novel. It seems like it would be tiresome to read a 332 page book where over 250 of the pages are just one character’s thoughts while she is trapped alone in a bedroom, but King manages to draw the reader in. He paints such a realistic picture of the panic of such a situation as Jessie’s that the reader becomes hooked, turning page after page to see how (or if) Jessie will be able to think her way out of this situation. He also gives her mind a great amount of dimension by having it be composed of multiple voices that speak to her and make up the parts of her conflicted inner mind. Her mental trials are interspersed with flashbacks to her childhood and the abuse that her father put her through. The way that the flashbacks are broken up creates intense suspense as the reader slowly finds out what happened to her as a child that sparked her mental turmoil. This impressive writing by King made for yet another best-selling novel. He yet again showed his ability to write the suspense novel in a new way, that keeps his readers wanting more.

Gerald’s Game is also a bestseller because its plot fits a successful pattern. In their book The Bestseller Code, Archer and Jockers break down the elements of a successful bestselling novel by making a computer program that can read books for certain elements that spell success. One of the aspects that they point out as important is a book following one of seven plotlines that follow distinct curves of increasing and decreasing emotional mood. By tracking the positive-emotion words and negative-emotion words in books they can see how the mood rises and falls between happy (or some other positive emotion/situation) and sad (or another negative emotion/situation). It is important that the book go both into the positive and the negative emotions, rather than being happy all the way through or sad all the way through. There are seven different common plotlines that are seen in bestsellers. These plotlines show the order, the frequency, and the extent to which moods shift in the books. Gerald’s Game fits very well onto Plotline 7: the “man in hole story.” This starts out somewhat positive (though not extremely positive), before quite quickly beginning to decline, so that a major chunk of the story is spent in a negative situation, before eventually it rises again and ends with somewhat positive emotion, though the depth that negative center of the story hits is much deeper than that of the positive beginning and end emotions. Gerald’s Game maps perfectly onto this pattern. The plot starts relatively positively, with Jessie and Gerald simply on a little trip to their lake house trying to spice up their love life. Though Jessie isn’t in an excellent mood, the situation is alright. Things begin to take a turn for the worse when Gerald attempts to rape her, has a heart attack, and dies, leaving Jessie manacled to the bed. Things get even worse as she tries and fails to escape, becomes thirstier, more delirious, sees a dog come in and feed on her husband, has a (possibly real, possibly imaginary) scary figure enter the room, and mentally re-lives her father’s sexual abuse of her as a child. Her chances begin to look better when she figures out a way to get her hand out of the cuff, though the gruesome way that she does this is extremely painful, and she passes out from blood loss. However, this is still the start of the upward movement of the emotional plot. She is not safe yet, but she has more hope. She wakes up and runs away from the Space Cowboy (who has come back) and eventually ends up safe. While the novel doesn’t close with “they all lived happily ever after” she does seem to have found some peace and is getting over her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. The shape is exactly the large scoop from happy, to extremely sad, to happy, that is a perfect recipe for success.

Another important factor that Archer and Jockers highlight for a novel to be a bestseller is to only cover a small number of themes, and Gerald’s Game does this. The story covers: troubled relationship with parents, troubled relationship with husband, sexual abuse, and personal development. It also includes an aspect of human closeness that plays a very important role in the ending. Archer and Jockers write that the element of human closeness is very important in making a bestseller. One of the voices that helps to save Jessie is the voice of her old college friend Ruth. This voice is one of the main things that keeps her going. The novel ends with Jessie writing a letter to Ruth to reach out to her, thank her, and apologize to her. It is a touching ending that shows that despite the negative relationships with her husband and father, Jessie grew closer to a friend through her traumatic experience. These themes make the reader feel a connection to the book that keeps them reading, and keeps the book selling.

Gerald’s Game is just one of many Stephen King bestsellers, but it has unique attributes that speak to its individual success. Through the breakdown of the characterization, plotline, and themes of the book, it is easy to see the building blocks that make King’s writing successful time and time again. With a recent (this is written in April, 2018) film released on Netflix that received a 91% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes (, the book is likely to have somewhat of a resurgence in popularity among the younger audiences who were not around for its initial release, but will now be drawn in by the movie. Gerald’s Game is likely to live on as part of the Stephen King literary empire for a long time to come.



Archer, Jodie, and Matthew Lee Jockers. The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel. St. Martin's Griffin, 2016.

Flanagan, Mike, and Jeff Howard. “Gerald's Game.” (2017) - Rotten Tomatoes, 17 Apr. 2018,

Heller, Karen. “Meet the Writers Who Still Sell Millions of Books. Actually, Hundreds of Millions.” The Washington Post, 20 Dec. 2016,

Milligan, Susan. “Stepping Through History.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 20 Jan. 2017, 1:54pm,

“Stephen King.” Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster, Inc.,

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