Saturday, May 5, 2018

In the Path of the Eclipse: "Gerald's Game" and "Dolores Claiborne" Revisited

Here are a few words from Stephen King, as quoted in an interview by Wallace Stroby (conducted September 16, 1991 and published in the March 1992 issue of Writer's Digest):
I thought for awhile that I could put [Gerald's Game] together with Dolores Claiborne and do one book.  Sometimes that happens.  I've done that before with Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, where the stories actually seemed to group together, although they were novels.  But these things were a little bit longer and just would not be harnessed together.  So eventually I decided to do them separately.  Since I went to work on Gerald's Game first, I decided to go with that one.

It doesn't seem as if these plans ever got out of the just-thinkin'-'bout-it stage, so a what-if is all it is, and all it will likely ever be.

Regardless, it's an interesting idea.  I think a lot of Constant Readers who were around at the time these books came out probably still think of them as a one-two punch; not as formal as the one-two punch that is Desperation and The Regulators, maybe, but similar.

And at some point over the years, this would-have-been combination of the two novels even picked up a title: In the Path of the Eclipse.  I know of three secondary sources where that title is mentioned.  I'm sure there are plenty of others, but these are the three that came to mind for me:

  • 2001 -- In their book The Stephen King Universe, authors Stanley Wiater, Christopher Golden & Hank Wagner have this to say: "Originally intended to be one half of a single volume entitled In the Path of the Eclipse, Gerald's Game is a companion piece to King's next novel, Dolores Claiborne."
  • 2003 -- In his book The Essential Stephen King, Stephen J. Spignesi has this to say in his Did You Know? section for Dolores Claiborne:  "Dolores Claiborne and Gerald's Game were written 'in tandem,' so to speak, and were intended to be a two-volume set called In the Path of the Eclipse."
  • 2008 -- In his book Stephen King: A Primary Bibliography of the World's Most Popular Author, Justin Brooks mentions The Path of the Eclipse [sic (?)] in the sections of both of the component novels, adding the wrinkle that they were two parts of a planned trilogy alongside an unwritten third novel.

What I've been utterly unable to find is where those books got the title In the Path of the Eclipse (or the variation missing the word "in") from.  Was it some interview King gave?  A nonfiction piece of some sort?  A lecture or signing?  I do not know.  If you do, please let me know in the comments.  
Now that that's out of the way, I thought it might be fun to explore these two novels with a post that recognizes and embraces the ways in which they intersect; not merely in the literal sense, but also thematically.  There's a sort of danger in doing that, though: the points of literal crossover excepted, both of these novels stand firmly on their own, and should not be downgraded to being a mere subset of something else.  But I think we can avoid that pitfall; and even if we can't, I'll be exploring both novels individually, as well.

I'm not quite sure how many posts I'll be devoting to that exploration, but my tentative plan is for three each, plus one more for each of the two movie adaptations.  That's not set in stone yet, but that's my thinking as of now.  So yeah, I'll be giving them each their individual due; they deserve it, quite richly.

But first, let's have a look at the book that never was: In the Path of the Eclipse.  We're not going to go quite so far as to pretend that that book exists; I think that would taking the notion too far.  But we can consider the two books to be individual halves of a sort of whole even though they WERE published separately.

So howsabout let's do just that?

We'll begin by looking at the manner in which King established the eclipse itself.  
Here's the first time it is mentioned (in Gerald's Game, although the same map also appears in Dolores Claiborne):

One effect of the novels being published separately is that readers in 1992 who picked up Gerald's Game were likely unaware that it had anything to do with an eclipse.  Some might have encountered the idea in reviews or other press; but the summary on the hardcover's dustjacket didn't give any indication.  That stamped image on the book's spine might have caught a few eyes, I suppose.  But the map was almost certainly the initial point of awareness for this aspect of the novel.  (Even then, many readers probably missed it.    I myself tended in those days to gloss right over prefatory material such as maps, dedications, epigraphs, etc.)

Things would likely have been different, of course, if 1992's legion of Constant Readers had been reading not Gerald's Game but In the Path of the Eclipse.

Regardless, King begins dropping hints relatively early on in GG, such as on p. 8, where there is a reference to Jessie having nightmares each night after the first few bondage-play "games" with Gerald.   "She only remembered one of these dreams," King writes, "and that memory was distant, blurred: she had been playing croquet without any clothes on, and all at once the sun had gone out."  It'd be understandable if we attached no significance to the idea of the sun going out; we've been told this is a dream, and anything can pop up in dreams. 

On p. 12, Jessie is remembering her brother goosing her when they were both kids; King drops the phrase "put out the sun" as a subconscious intrusion into one of Jessie's thoughts.  This is an interesting moment, not merely as a callback to the barely-remembered nightmare, but also because of the way the phrase "put out" resonates within the rest of the novel.  There's obviously a sexual connotation there, and the phrase has resonance with Dolores Claiborne, as well.  The sexual connotation carries over into that novel, for example; but that's not all there is to it.  There's also this: if one is blinded, one might say that one's eye has been "put out."  We'll come back to that idea just a few secntences from now.

King will continue to deftly mix ideas elsewhere in the opening sections of Gerald's Game.  Early on (p. 14, 19, etc.),  he has Jessie think of danger and panic as predators which must be evaded, lest they capture her and consume her.  This is effective stuff, and he deepens it on p. 49 in a moment when she not merely panics, but goes damn near insane for a few moments.  "This new panic-attack was like some weird mental eclipse," King writes; "it filtered out the bright light of reason and hope and allowed her to see the most awful possibilities of all: starvation, thirst-induced madness, convulsions, death."

I suppose one might feel that point-blank comparing this panic attack to a mental eclipse is a bit on-the-nose, but I think it's just as easy to feel that when King phrases it that way, it's because the two ideas are subconsciously joined in Jessie's own mind.  This is purposeful on King's part; it's not a stumble, it's a strut.  And he is establishing that the loss of literal light serves as a metaphor for the loss of non-literal light (specifically, in Jessie's life); we'll see later that Jessie connects the loss of light and/or color with the loss of optimism and hope.

The loss of light will end up serving a somewhat inverted purpose in Dolores Claiborne, where the eclipse becomes an opportunity to punish the man whose actions have robbed the Claiborne family of their reason and hope.  Dolores, too, will envision death: but she will wield its possibility as a weapon; she will wield the eclipse itself as a weapon.  But she will also express sentiments similar to those we hear from Jessie about the loss of optimism.  
But let's stick with Gerald's Game for the moment.  We begin to finally understand that the eclipse will be a literal thing within the novel on p. 98, when "Ruth" accuses Jessie of allowing the day of the eclipse to put an end to their friendship.  "When it came down to a choice between me and what happened to you in July of 1963, you chose the eclipse," "Ruth" thinks at her.  "The total solar eclipse lasted just over a minute that day, Jessie . . . except in your mind.  In there, it's still going on, isn't it?"

("Ruth," by the way, refers to a device King employs in which Jessie assigns certain thoughts inside her own head to the voice of her former college roommate, who was a more forceful and assertive person than she herself was/is.  Jessie will do a great deal of thinking during the novel, and in a great many different "voices."  The "Ruth" voice is one of the most prominent.)

King, via "Ruth," is arguing that certain words/concepts can have dual meanings.  A thing can be a real thing -- an actual, physical thing (or place or event) -- but it can simultaneously also be a metaphor that inhabits one's mind; the mind is capable of turning these two things into one.  So when "Ruth" accuses Jessie of choosing the eclipse over her, what she's really saying is that Jessie chose to give in to her pain and allow her (I quote) "reason and hope" to fade away into the darkness, and to instead "see the most awful possibilities of all."  That mindset has been the one which Jessie has maintained, to some degree, for the remainder of her life post-Ruth.  It has not prevented her from living that life; she can and does function on a day-to-day, walking-around basis; but she does so in a form of darkness. 

When the "space cowboy" first shows up, Jessie's panicked thought is that this apparition is somehow her father, come back to a sort of life, and intent on ... well, intent on her.  Jessie blacks out, and upon regaining consciousness is afraid, but briefly not sure what of.  "Then it came to her: Daddy had been here, was perhaps here still.  The creature hadn't looked like him, that was true, but that was only because Daddy had been wearing his eclipse face."  (p. 134)

I've never begun curating a list of the best single sentences in King's work, but if I ever do, that last one'll make the team.  Count on it.

I'd argue that King uses the entirety of Gerald's Game to develop a complex set of metaphors that interlock with and revolve around the central eclipse imagery.  We've only scratched the surface of it here.

I'd say there is considerably less effort on his part to replicate that trick by building eclipse imagery into the bones of Dolores Claiborne.  This makes sense, given not only the fact that the second novel is a first-person one from the point of view of the titular hero, but also given that previously-stated difference in how the eclipse metaphor is wielded from one book to the other.

But this does not mean that the novel is free of metaphorical mentions of the eclipse.  On p. 291, for example, in discussing Vera's lies to her about her children (Donald and Helga) still being alive, Dolores has this to say: "You know what I think?  I think that between March or April of 1963 and the middle of July, Vera Donovan was crazy; I think for those few months she really did believe they were alive.  She wiped the sight of that Corvette comin outta the quarry where it'd fetched up from her memory; she believed em back to life by sheer force of will.  Believed em back to life?  Nope, that ain't quite right.  She eclipsed em back to life."

Dolores has used the eclipse as a literal weapon against Joe; Vera, too has used the eclipse as a weapon, a metaphorical one against the memories she wishes not to possess.  Vera, then, is similar to Jessie in that they both "eclipse" their negative memories.  But Vera seems to do so in a more purposeful and directed manner, one which (arguably) makes her stronger as a person, whereas Jessie's self-deceit weakens her.

Both Vera herself and Dolores will also indirectly be linked with the motivating force Jessie uses: the memory of Ruth.  King deploys the phrase "high-riding bitch" in both novels as a means of accomplishing this.  "I suppose us high-riding bitches have to stick together," "Ruth" thinks inside Jessie's head on p. 99 of Gerald's Game.  Dolores, accusing Vera of taking her anger out on somebody else, says "I guess I ain't enough of a high-riding bitch to do that" (p. 166).

What, in a literal sense, does this phrase mean?  The way I take it, it's something a peasant might call a noblewoman who goes past on horseback or in a carriage or something.  Dolores, in relation to Vera, pretty much is a peasant; and she knows it, and she knows that Vera knows it, and she knows that Vera knows Dolores knows it, etc.  But that doesn't mean she is inclined to just blindly accept it.  Dolores is telling Vera that while the wealthy woman might believe that her advanced station in life gives her the right to tread upon those beneath her, the right to do so only goes so far.  Dolores is telling Vera that if nobody will call her out for it, Dolores herself will be glad to do so, even if it costs her her job.

You could say that in this moment, Dolores is arguing that the bond of sisterhood ought to supersede class distinction; and given Vera's tempered and chastened response, I think that not only is that exactly what IS happening, but I think it works.

Ruth -- both the real Ruth (who we kind of glimpse in flashback a few times when Jessie thinks about her) and the Ruth who exists inside Jessie's imagination -- plays a similar role in Gerald's Game.  She is seemingly not separated from Jessie by class divide, but Jessie purposefully separated herself in a manner not entirely free from social distinction.  After abandoning Ruth's friendship, Jessie ended up living with "three little Sorority Susies" (p. 98), and I think that if you really wanted to do so, you could add this to some of the vaguely anti-yuppie material which King hints at (but never fully delves into) and come up with the conclusion that even if Jessie isn't on par with Vera Donovan in terms of class, Ruth might well view her in the same light.
Regardless, "Ruth" is constantly pushing Jessie to rejoin the sisterhood (not in the sorority sense, but in the heightened sisterhood-of-humanity sense).  The only way Jessie can do so is by being true to herself and remembering that which she does not wish to remember, and that's exactly what "Ruth" wants from her; she -- and by "she," let's remember, I actually mean just an aspect of Jessie's own personality -- does not want to allow Jessie to continue permitting herself to be marginalized and degraded by virtue of the things that have happened to her in her past.  One senses that Vera might empathize; she would frown on Jessie's capitulation, but would also understand Jessie's need to order reality in a manner that suited her best, even if it were ultimately self-destructive.

Vera will end up planting the idea in Dolores's mind that the eclipse itself can be a destructive force.  Not a self-destructive one; self-redemptive, if anything.  But very destructive of somebody else, perhaps.  I'm not sure you can say that Vera directly gives Dolores the idea to use the eclipse in that manner, but Dolores gives her credit for the idea, and Vera does unquestionably hint to Dolores that Joe being alive doesn't necessarily have to be a permanent thing.
"Husbands die every day, Dolores," Vera says (p. 146).  "Why, one is probably dying right now, while we're sitting here talking."  Vera says this after Dolores has unburdened herself on the subject of the terrible things Joe has done to both Selena and her.  "An accident," she continues later (p. 147), "is sometimes an unhappy woman's best friend."

A few pages earlier (p. 134), Dolores has mentioned seeking a way to be rid of Joe.  "You know who finally gave me the answer?" she asks.  "Vera."  I think that Dolores holds those ideas of Vera's about husbands dying within her mind like subconscious mantras.  Then, when Vera tells her that she's rented a ferry for the day of the eclipse, Dolores has occasion to think about the fact that Little Tall Island is apt to be almost entirely deserted when the solar event occurs.
Vera is waxing lyrical about what it will be like on the ferry, almost as if she is trying to pass her excitement along to Dolores.  She notices her housekeeper looks a little pained and asks if she is all right, and if she needs to lie down.  Dolores says no, that she just "come over funny for a few seconds there."  She explains further, not to Vera, but to us (and to the police officers to whom the entire novel is being spoken): "I had, too.  All at once knowin what day you plan to kill your husband on, I guess that'd be apt to bring anyone over funny."  (p. 159)

We'll flash forward now to p. 195-6, when Dolores and Joe are experiencing the eclipse.  There are a lot of great paragraphs in Dolores Claiborne; here come two of the best:

Vera'd told me time n time again that it was dangerous to look straight at the eclipse; she said it could burn your retinas or even blind you.  Still, I couldn't no more resist turning my head n takin one quick glance up over my shoulder than Lot's wife could resist takin one last glance back at the city of Sodom.  What I saw has stayed in my memory ever since.  Weeks, sometimes whole months go by without me thinking about Joe, but hardly a day goes by when I don't think of what I saw that afternoon when I looked up over my shoulder and into the sky.  Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt because she couldn't keep her eyes front n her mind on her business, and I've sometimes thought it's a wonder I didn't have to pay the same price.
     The eclipse wasn't total yet, but it was close.  The sky itself was a deep royal purple, and what I saw hangin in it above the reach looked like a big black pupil with a gauzy veil of fire spread out most of the way around it.  One one side there was a thin crescent of sun still left, like beads of molten gold in a blast furnace.  I had no business lookin at such a sight and I knew it, but once I had, it seemed like I couldn't look away.  It was like . . . well, you might laugh, but I'm gonna say it anyway.  It was like that inside eye had gotten free of me somehow, that it had floated up into the sky and was lookin down to see how I was gonna make out.  But it was so much bigger than I'd ever imagined!  So much blacker!

This "inside eye" that Dolores speaks of is something that has been mentioned way back on p. 98, during the sequence in which Selena tells Dolores what her father has been doing to her.  After Dolores finds out that no actual fucking has happened yet, a silence falls over things.

What I felt inside was pure rage.  It was like I had an eye inside, one I never knew about before that day, and all I could see with it was Joe's long, horsey face, with his lips always cracked and his dentures always kind of yellow and his cheeks always chapped and red high up on the cheekbones.  I saw his face pretty near all the time after that, that eye wouldn't close even when my other two did and I was asleep, and I began to know it wouldn't close until he was dead.  It was like bein in love, only inside out.

That last sentence is so good that I feel tears spring into my eyes just typing it.  I mean, holy shit.  It occurs to me that I haven't said much so far in the way of whether I like these two novels.  The last time I ranked King's books they came in at #22 (Dolores Claiborne) and #42 (Gerald's Game), which are respectable showings.  I'll go ahead and tell you now, though: both are apt to go a good deal higher the next time I do a reranking.  I still think Dolores Claiborne is the better of the two, but I love both more or less unreservedly at this point; and I'm not sure Dolores Claiborne isn't top-ten material.

But I digress.

So anyways, by the time we reach the eclipse itself, King has done the legwork in establishing the notion of this inner "eye" of Dolores's.  But he's done something even more interesting than that, too.  Remember earlier, when we talked about how Vera told Dolores that husbands die every day?  On the same page (146), just before that, Dolores has mentioned that something dangerous is brewing inside her.  "If I don't get the kids away from him soon," she says to Vera, "somethin bad is gonna happen.  I know it is.  There's a thing inside me, and it's gettin worse."

"Is it an eye?" Vera asks Dolores calmly.  "Something like an eye?"

This is an atom-bomb of a moment that (in my opinion) makes the crossover between the two novels plausible.  I'll explain that more fully in a bit, but before we stroll away from this moment itself, let me say that as I see it, Vera is not speculating about it being "like an eye"; she's not been given enough information for accurate speculation.  With no knowledge, someone might hear Dolores say "there's a thing inside me" and come up with a thousand other guesses about what that thing is like before reaching "Is it an eye?"  They'd all be shots in the dark; this is no shot in the dark.  This is a sniper's bullet, aimed precisely and delivered on target.

The manner in which she asks is important, too; King doesn't say that Vera asks "Is it an eye?" curiously, or querulously, or tentatively.  He specifies that she asks it "calmly."  And consider King's stated dislike of adverbs as expressed in On Writing!  The fact that he is using an adverb at all is possibly important; the choice of which one to use is definitely important.

And I think King has used this one because he wants at least some of us to know that Vera KNOWS it's "something like an eye."

I had not remembered anything about this aspect of these novels.  When I reached it on this reread, this moment absolutely floored me.  I'm not sure I can even quite express why that is, but I think it's got something to do with how matter-of-fact it is.  And probably also it's the implication that something deeper is going on; but it's less the implication itself than the fact that it's never quite followed through on.

I have a spotty memory when it comes to recalling how I felt about certain specifics of the King novels I read decades ago, which is probably not a thing unique to me.  But I retain some memories of where I was when I read certain books, and in some cases, specific reactions to specific moments have indeed managed to linger down through the years.  Thus it is that I can tell you that upon my initial read of Gerald's Game, I had zero idea what the fuck to make of the moments when Dolores "appeared" to Jessie.  The entire novel flummoxed me, to be honest.

I can also remember my reaction to Jessie appearing to Dolores in Dolores Claiborne: I was aggravated by it.  I can't remember whether I picked up on the fact that Dolores was the mystery apparition in Gerald's Game or not (prior to the crossover in the second novel, I mean); but obviously when it reached that point in the book, it dawned on me, and I was all like, "This shit again?!?"  I viewed it as an intrusion into an otherwise excellent novel, and held it against King; mostly on the back of my not having liked Gerald's Game.

It may well be that many readers still feel that the crossover is a pointless failure.  McMolo at Dog Star Omnibus feels that way (or did in 2013, at least); Kevin Quigley of Charnel House seems to be of the same opinion.  And that's how I myself felt until I reread the novels this time.
It may well be that publishing the books as In the Path of the Eclipse would have accomplished this from the outset.  That's how Grady Hendrix seems to have felt when he revisited the issue during his reread series.  And I suspect he's correct.  I can only speak for myself as a reader, but my readings prior to this one found me resistant to the connections, probably because there was no evident cause for them; they seemed, therefore, pointless and forced.  If, on the other hand, the two stories had been part of the same book, I think I would have been inclined to fill in the blanks for myself, if only on a thematic level.  I would have been encouraged to do so by virtue of the two stories being part of the same overriding story.  As is, the fact that they ARE that regardless of the manner of their publication seems to have eluded me for years afterward.

This time, though, the strong possibility of Vera's knowing about the "eye" in Dolores's mind opens new vistas for me.

It's possible that I'm reading too much into this; I don't think I am, but it is possible.  If I'm not, then I'm a little awed by King's willingness to leave the whole thing so utterly unexplained.

Awed?  Yes.  Surprised?  In retrospect, not really.

After all, neither of his protagonists (Jessie and Dolores) were well-suited to explorations of psychic phenomena within their stories.  Furthermore, King's restricted focus on their perspectives didn't permit him to step away from them and allow some other character to explain it all.  There is no Dick Hallorann nearby them to show up and say, "You ladies know what's going on here?  Well, it's like this..."  There's not even a Glen Bateman to philosophize about it, or a Bob Jenkins to speculate about it.  There's just them and the relatively empty world around them, and few explanations for anything.
This is similar to what King did in The Dark Half, where one of the novel's central conceits -- the sudden physical existence of George Stark, who has previously existed only as a pseudonym -- goes entirely unexplained.  As such, maybe it's no surprise that The Dark Half used to frustrate me back in the day; but a 2011 reread got me over the hump with that book, so much so that I even ended up writing a blog post where I "explained" how Stark was able to have a separate physical existence.  That "explanation" is mere fanfiction, of course; I think it's well-reasoned and interesting fanfiction, but mere fanfiction nonetheless.  I think King very purposefully opted out of explaining what Stark was and how he/it was possible, (A) because he himself didn't much care, (B) because it was scarier left unexplained, and (C) because the story never yielded up a means by which he could explore the idea.
If that last point seems like hogwash to you, well, don't be so hasty.  King is on the record throughout his career saying that he feels the writing process is less invention of story than it is the transcription of story that is being revealed to him.  From where?  Well, from wherever stories come from.  You might indeed think this is hogwash, but that's okay; all you need to believe is that King believes it, and I think the evidence of that is plentiful.
I think something similar happened with In the Path of the Eclipse.  (I'm referring to the two books as one so as to save time; time which I have now lost again due to explaining what I was doing!  Ah, well.)  I'd love to know at what point King realized that Jessie and Dolores were going to "meet" in that manner.  Impossible for me to say, but I think I can speculate that it was almost certainly a very sudden discovery, and that it probably surprised him, but that he went with it and then never found himself with an opportunity to explore the mechanism by which this "meeting" occurred.  He, being an intuitive and reflexive writer, opted not to worry about it.
But that doesn't mean that hypothetical mechanism isn't there, and it doesn't mean that he didn't play around with the idea (vague and unexplained though it may have remained) on the few occasions he was able to do so.  For example, on p. 212, Vera's voice speaks out of thin air and tells Dolores to brain Joe with a rock.  
Dolores tells the officers to whom she is relating this story that Vera's voice occurred as a literal thing in the world, and that "if Nancy Bannister's tape-recorder had been out there, you could've played that voice back over n over n over again."  I don't see any reason to suspect Dolores is lying about that, do you?  I think she might be incorrect about the tape-recorder picking the voice up, though; I think this happens only in her mind, but in such a forceful manner that she believes it happened in a manner others could have heard.  A more forceful manner, also, than on p. 216, where, after Dolores has finally ascertained that Joe is truly dead, Vera's voice appears in Dolores's head once again.  (Only "this time it was in my head," Dolores says.  "I know that, just like I know that it spoke right into my ear the first time.")  "Get some sleep," the voice says, "and when you wake the eclipse really will be over."
A large chunk of Gerald's Game is devoted to the device of Jessie communing with various aspects of her own personality, which she assigns different identities and experiences as "voices" inside her head.  This is not a case of split personality; it's significantly less literal than that.  Jessie obviously has a mixed-up mind, and is probably not representative of the average person.  Still, I think her "voices" are understandable enough.  Have you ever felt simultaneously that something is both a good idea and a bad idea?  Have you ever "been of two minds" about how to resolve that conflict?  I sure have.  When I find myself in the position of thinking through something like that, I do often find myself literally "saying" things inside my own head.  I don't imagine this as being the voice of a college roommate; but I don't have much trouble imagining how somebody who isn't me might use that trick to get themselves through a rough time.  So while I know this aspect of Gerald's Game troubles and distances some readers, I am not one of them; I think it works quite well.
On this reading, I took greater notice of the hints that that might not be all that is going on with Jessie.  I say "hints," but it's more definitive than that.  Not that the voices are more than Jessie's imagination; but that she thinks they might be more than that. 
King introduces the device of Jessie's thoughts on the very first page, and ramps it up almost immediately, with thoughts inside her head interrupting other thoughts.  Jessie is merely questioning her own actions the way anyone does.  But as the narrative proceeds and the danger intensifies, the thoughts turn into voices of a sort, and the voices into personalities of a sort, and while we understand that this is merely Jessie thinking to herself, we are also conditioned by King to accept this being presented in something very similar to dialogue between multiple different characters.  Again, I think King accomplishes this deftly; your mileage may vary.  Regardless of where your opinion lies, by p. 40, Jessie is occasionally speaking aloud is response to these "voices."
This, too, is something less than weird.  Who the fuck doesn't talk to themselves?  I myself do it all the doggone time.  In my case, I often externalize it as a conversation by speaking to my cats.  ("Haranguing," they might say.)  "Yo," I might say to one of them, "what the fuck I want for dinner?"  One of them will meow at me, which I will mentally interpret as "How the hell should I know?  What do you want, fatass?  NEED to eat a damn salad."  To which I will verbally reply, "Nope, tacos or porkchops?" or something of that nature.  If I am looking for a book or magazine or something and cannot immediately locate it, I might well interrogate my cats as to the location of this item whilst searching for it.  They sometimes have useful answers for me, too; it's not unheard of.
Duncan Idaho, Constant Reading Companion
I doubt I would do this if I didn't have pets.  But I wouldn't rule it out.  Maybe you think this makes me nutso.  If so, I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that Gerald's Game might not work for you.
In any case, King continues to intensify the device.  By p. 46, the voices are interrupting each other, and Jessie is actively shutting them down when their "words" aren't welcome; but then by p. 76, Jessie is verbally imploring the "voices" to help her (in a manner not dissimilar from young Bill Denbrough imploring his fellows Losers' Club members to help him).  Which they do!  They eventually help her help herself, one might say.
And so it goes for much of the novel, but by p. 219, we get this bit, which follows on the heels of Jessie experiencing massive cramping in her muscles and actively hoping for the onset of madness: for her, the world outside the room where she is trapped
had ceased to hold any real meaning for her.  In fact, she came strongly to believe that there was no world outside this room, that all the people who had once filled it had gone back to some existential Central Casting office, and all the scenery had been packed away like stage-flats after one of Ruth's beloved college drama society productions.
     Time was a cold sea through which her consciousness forged like a waddling, graceless icebreaker.  Voices came and went like phantoms.  Most spoke inside her head, but for awhile Nora Callighan talked to her from the bathroom, and at another point Jessie had a conversation with her mother, who seemed to be lurking in the hall.
The natural assumption is that Jessie is wrong about the fact that "madness would not come."  Her "horrible, tiresome sanity" may indeed have snapped, no matter what she thinks consciously.
But has it?  Dolores Claiborne -- to which this novel is inextricably linked, one must remember -- presents evidence that calls it somewhat into question: Dolores is convinced that she literally hears Vera's voice suggesting that she brain Joe.  This isn't the only time that happens, either; even more spookily, Dolores, years later, hears Vera's voice in a literal sense after Vera has died.  Vera delivers a freaking monologue to an understandably-weirded-out Dolores, in fact (p. 300).
And there are other reasons to suspect that something downright supernatural is happening with Vera:
  • p. 44-5:  Dolores talks about how the aged Vera would go back and forth between having good days and bad days mentally.  She says that Vera would have "fits" during the time of transition between good to bad or bad to good.  "That was the time when she'd have her hallucinations," Dolores tells the officers.  "If they were all hallucinations.  I'm not so sure about that as I used to be."  This is in reference to the "dust bunnies" and "wires" that plagued Vera during her infirm mentality.
  • p. 51, referring to the dust bunnies under the bed: "Once or twice even I thought I saw somethin movin under there, and I had to clamp my mouth shut to keep from screamin myself.  All I saw was just the movin shadow of her own hand, accourse, I know that, but it shows what a state she got me in, don't it?"
  • p. 52-3: "It was on one of those nights that I dreamed about the dust bunnies.  Only in the dream I wasn't me, I was her, stuck in that hospital bed..."  "I looked over in the corner, and what I saw was this thing that looked like a head made out of dust.  Its eyes were all rolled up and its mouth was open and full of long snaggly dust-teeth.  It started comin toward the bed, but slow, and when it rolled around to the face side again the eyes were lookin right at me and I saw it was Michael Donovan, Vera's husband.  The second time the face come around, though, it was my husband.  It was Joe St. George, with a mean grin on his face and a lot of long dust-teeth all snappin.  The third time it rolled around it wasn't nobody I knew, but it was alive, it was hungry, and it meant to roll all the way over to where I was so it could eat me."  Even after she awakes, Dolores thinks for a second she still sees this apparition.  And she says she has "always wondered since then if maybe she didn't send me that dream, if I didn't see a little of what she saw those times when she screamed.  Maybe I picked up a little of her fear and made it my own."
  • p. 172-3: On the day of the eclipse, Vera seems downright positive that the sun will come out in time for the big event.  "Sunshine by three, Dolores!" she says.  "See if I'm not right!"  (And she will be, of course.)  In what might well be merely a throwaway line, but equally well might not be, Dolores says, "You make it sound like you put in a work-order for it."  To which Vera replies, "Yes -- that's just what I did."
  • p. 259, shortly after Vera has fallen -- or thrown herself -- down the stairs and Dolores has seen blood quirt from the side of her head: "I turned away so fast my feet tangled in each other and I went to my knees.  I was starin back down the hallway toward her room, and what I saw made me scream.  It was Joe.  For a few seconds I saw him as clear as I see you now, Andy; I saw his dusty, grinnin face peekin out at me from under her wheelchair, lookin through the wire spokes of the wheel that had got caught in the door."
I guess I'm a lousy reader, because I never put all of this together on my previous reads of Dolores Claiborne.  But now, here's what stands out for me: Vera is almost certainly invested with some sort of psychic ability.  The nature of it is mysterious; we don't have a clear idea of where the limits of her abilities begin and end.  We're not even sure if Vera herself knows those limits; and for that matter, we're not sure Vera knows she even possesses these abilities at all.

So what do we know?

Well, I think we can feel fairly secure in the knowledge that Vera possesses at least some mild ability to read minds; I base this on her uncanny knowledge that Dolores thinks of her rage as an eye.  I think we also know that Vera possesses at least some ability to transmit thoughts to others; we don't know to what extent this is a conscious process or not (Vera may not know she is doing it at all), but Dolores says that Vera "speaks" (in a nearly literal sense) inside her head on at least two occasions.  And then there's also the matter of Vera's dream seeming to transfer to Dolores while they are sleeping in close proximity to each other.  That, too, speaks to Vera's ability to act as a broadcaster of sorts; as do the occasions (such as the Joe-under-the-wheelchair one) on which Dolores seemingly experiences one of Vera's hallucinations, externalized somehow into the real world.

We now must needs enter the realm of fanfic-type explanations, but don't worry, we won't wade too far into those waters; I'll go only so far as I allow my own mind to go, which isn't very far.

I'd speculate that Vera is probably conscious of her abilities in some way, but that she probably does not really think of them as abilities in the traditional sense one would use when describing fictional characters.  She probably just thinks of what she does as insight of some sort; she'd have nothing to which she could compare it, after all.  But she probably is conscious of it in her limited way; so, for example, I think she knows definitively that the sun WILL come out on the day of the eclipse.  This implies at least some limited form of psychic prognostication, not unlike what Johnny Smith can do.  I suspect that stressful and negative emotion intensifies her ability; both negative emotion of her own and quite possibly that of others, which permits her to serve as a sort of receptor.  This may require a sort of initial contact, and that contact could necessitate that people with whom she communicates psychically also be receptive, albeit not necessarily at as high a level as her.

So let's say that psychic ability can be expressed on the classic one-to-ten scale, with 1 indicating only a tiny amount of telepathy and 10 indicating Danny Torrance.  (Or maybe Danny's an 8 or a 9 and Abra Stone is a 10.)  Vera is probably about a 4.  So maybe Dolores herself is a 1.  For Vera to make contact of this sort with somebody, they need to be at least a 1.  And maybe if she comes into contact with a 1, it is only via strong emotion, so when Dolores becomes upset thanks to Joe stealing the kids' money, and goes to Vera's home with rage burning her up inside, perhaps it activates the connection between the two of them.

I'd speculate that Vera is not aware that this happens; or at least is not aware of the full extent of it.  I think she knows she can occasionally see into people or situations, so she is able to peek inside Dolores's mind during these moments.  And the connection probably remains open, more or less, from that point on (although it might take intensified emotion for the connection to be strong).  So on the day of the eclipse, Vera consciously takes a peek to see what Dolores is doing, finds her wavering on the edge of the well while Joe is on the verge of crawling out of it, and thinks to herself "brain him, you ninny" (p. 212).  She gives this advice in the way you or I might give advice to a basketball player we're watching run up the court on television.  Vera is therefore unaware that Dolores is able to actually "hear" this thought.  She's not sending Dolores messages designed to help her; Dolores is simply picking up a stray thought because it is uncommonly strong, and the reception between the two of them is temporarily heightened.

As for the dream of the dust-bunny rolling-head thing, well, even Dolores thinks Vera might have somehow sent her that dream!  Of course that's what happened.  And I'd say this happens as a result of Vera's deteriorating cognition.  I think maybe this serves almost as an intensifier for her telepathic ability, possibly by virtue only of her reflexive barriers becoming degraded; maybe she goes from a 4 to a 6 or so.  She has a particularly intense nightmare, one which she unwittingly transmits to Dolores, and even causes it to seem REAL for Dolores for a few moments.

A similar version of that is obviously what's going in in the moments before Vera's death, when Dolores "hallucinates" seeing Joe beneath the wheelchair.

Something else interesting happens in this scene, though, and this is where we get to bring Gerald's Game back into the conversation.  Just before Dolores runs into the house as the result of Vera screaming, she is hanging laundry on a line outside.  "Then," King writes on p. 255, "with half the basket still to do, I stopped.  I had a bad feeling.  I can't say why, or even where it started.  All at once it was just there.  And for just a moment the strangest thought came to me: 'That girl's in trouble . . . the one I saw on the day of the eclipse, the one who saw me.  She's all grown up now, almost Selena's age, but she's in terrible trouble.' "

We've not spoken much yet of the actual connection between Dolores and Jessie.  I'm not sure I have a handle on the mechanics of how that happens (even in terms of just explaining it to myself; King gives us nothing).  I think Vera is somehow responsible for it, probably in an unwitting manner.  But is that fair?  I mean, sure, as I laid it out above it can explain Dolores's side of it.  Can it explain Jessie's side of the equation?

Maybe . . . but it's hanging by a thread even in my own mind.  Let's say that, like Dolores, Jessie is about a 1 on the old telepath psi-rating scale.  So when she begins enduring horrific stress on the day of the eclipse, her mind sends out the mental equivalent of a gamma-ray burst; it's not a terribly powerful one, on account of the fact that she's just a 1 (or hey, maybe she's more like a 2 or a 3), but it's powerful enough that it forms a brief connection with the first similar mind that it encounters: Dolores's.  Maybe this is aided by Vera's connection with Dolores; maybe it is aided somehow by the eclipse itself (though I tend to think not, given the recurrence of the connection just before Vera's death).  Whatever the case, it seems obvious that stress aids the process; and I wonder if some of the "alien voices" Jessie hears inside her head -- the ones which are unfamiliar to her and which seem to be coming from "outside" in some way -- aren't other telepaths chiming in on her situation without actually possessing a full range of knowledge about what is happening to her.

I think something like this is almost certainly what is happening.  Please note that I said "something like this."  In no way do I think my theories actually ARE what's happening.  They are simply one possible explanation.  King does not give us one; he's content to let the mystery be.  All he gives us -- and this only by inference -- is a sort of certainty that there is a reason for it; we aren't privy to that reason, but we likely feel certain one exists.  It's like how in our real world, there IS definitively an answer to the question of whether there is life on other worlds elsewhere in the universe.  We don't know the answer; but our not knowing it does not in any way preclude the existence of the answer.

So it is with the connection between Jessie and Dolores.  A lot of what I've said above, then, is kind of like the equivalent of me saying "there are definitely life-forms on other planets" or "we are definitely the only life in the universe."  Either way, how the fuck would a guy like me know?  I've got my ideas, though, and I can be certain that whether I'm right or wrong, there's a definitive answer.  (By the way, Jack Burton said it best when he said, "a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we're all alone in this universe.")

But back to the novels.
What else is there to say about the crossover itself?  Not a whole heck of a lot.  There are something like about six instances of it (spread throughout both books), including the one I mentioned above.  I suppose we may as well have a look at them:

  • GG p. 166-7: After her father abuses her during the eclipse, Jessie is looking around in her room for some different clothes to put on.  Suddenly: "The other woman is on her knees, too, a voice remarked, and she smells that same smell.  That smell that's like copper and cream."  King says that Jessie both does and doesn't hear this; she seemingly takes no conscious note of it.  "It's coming out of the well, the voice remarked further.  The smell from the well."  Jessie takes note of this in a sort of offhanded fashion, and even thinks a response back at it.  "She made him fall down the well, the voice said, and that finally got through.  Jessie came to a dead stop in the bathroom doorway, her eyes widening.  She was suddenly afraid in some new and deadly way.  Now that she was actually listening to it, she realized that this voice was not like any of the others; this one was like a voice you might pick up on the radio late at night, when conditions were exactly right -- a voice that might come from far, far away.  Not that far, Jessie; she is in the path of the eclipse, too."    Jessie briefly finds herself not in her own lakehouse, but in a blackberry tangle, and she can actually see a woman we will later know to be Dolores Claiborne.  [Mild sidebar: I think I might be correct in comparing Jessie's voices to "Tony" in The Shining.  Danny thinks of his telepathic ability as another boy, because he is unable to think of it in any other way.  Might Jessie not really even quite being aware that these voices in her head are there be indicative of a very low-grade shine?]
  • GG p. 247-8: Shortly after the big degloving incident, as she is moving the bed, Jessie experiences a bit of lightheadedness, only "she thought darkheadedness would probably be a better way to describe it.  The dominant feeling was one of loss -- not just of thought and will but of sensory input as well.  For one confused moment she was convinced that time had whiplashed, flinging her to a place that was neither Dark Score nor Kashwakamak but some other place entirely, a place that was on the ocean rather than any inland lake.  The smell was no longer oysters and pennies but sea-salt.  It was the day of the eclipse again, that was the only thing that was the same.  She had run into the blackberry tangles to get away from some other man, some other Daddy who wanted to do a lot more than shoot his squirt on the back of her panties.  And now he was at the bottom of the well.  Déjà vu poured over her like strange water."  Say, friend, does this remind you a little bit of going todash?  Yeah, me too; me too.
  • p. 253: Jessie finds it necessary to go under the bed, and as she moves she causes "a few errant dust bunnies" to scatter out of her path.  "For some reason the dust bunnies made her think of the woman in her vision again -- the woman kneeling in the blackberry tangles with her slip in a white pile beside her."  This makes me think that the connection between her and Dolores might be weak, but it is very much active; the only way Jessie would have of mentally connecting the dust bunnies beneath her own bed to Dolores would be if she had some manner of access to Dolores's mind (or possibly to Vera's), to know ("know" being a highly relative idea in this instance) that dust bunnies were a bit of thing in her life as well.
  • DC p. 183-4: Dolores and Joe are on their porch before the eclipse.  "I took one of the reflector-boxes from the bag, held it out the way Vera'd showed me about a hundred times in the last week or so, and when I did I had the funniest thought: That little girl is doin this, too, I thought.  The one who's sittin on her father's lap.  She's doin this very same thing."  She's telling this story to the police, and goes on to say that she didn't know then what that thought meant, and doesn't know now, either; but that she thought of the little girl again a bit later.  "Except in the next second or two I wasn't just thinkin of her; I was seein her, the way you see people in dreams, or the way I guess the Old Testament prophets must have seen things in their visions: a little girl maybe ten years old, with her own reflector-box in her hands."  She also notices that this girl's father has his hand too high up on her leg, and this makes her think of Joe.  Joe notices that something is off with his wife; "You looked funny there for a minute," he says, implying that whatever is going on in Dolores's mind in this moment obviously has some sort of spillover into the real world.  Back in the present, Dolores tells Andy that she thinks "that little girl I saw then n again later was a real little girl, and that she was sittin with her father somewhere else along the path of the eclipse at the same time I was sittin on the back porch with Joe."  Dolores obviously knows that this is an incredible thing to claim, but I'm not sure she's wordly enough to know just how incredible it is.  And I can't help but wonder what role this plays in Andy's apparent -- never actually revealed, but implied -- decision not to charge her with a crime.  For the record: I love the fact that King leaves this question not merely unanswered but essentially unposed.
  • DC p. 200: Dolores is on her knees after Joe has tumbled into the well.  She finds herself thinking of the little girl again, "and all at once I saw her just as clear as day.  She was down on her knees, too, lookin under her bed."  Dolores thinks about how the little girl smells "that same smell.  The one that's like pennies and oysters.  Only it didn't come from the well; it has something to do with her father.  And then, all at once, it was like she looked around at me, Andy . . . I think she saw me.  And when she did, I understood why she was so unhappy: her father'd been at her somehow, and she was tryin to cover it up.  On top of that, she'd all at once realized someone was lookin at her, that a woman God knows how many miles away but still in the path of the eclipse -- a woman who'd just killed her husband -- was lookin at her.  She spoke to me, although I didn't hear her voice with my ears; it came from deep in the middle of my head.  'Who are you?' she ast."
And that is pretty much that, as far as the actual points of connection between the two novels go.
It may be that you think this is a a big old bunch of hooey.  If so, I don't hold it against you.  But it works for me, in large part because of how unexplained it all is.  I like a bit of mystery, a bit of ambiguity; King's work is occasionally lacking in those two elements, and their strong presence here is intoxicating for me.  You might not think so, based on my apparent need to explain it all away using a telepathic-power rating system, but hey, that's just a bunch of stuff I made up.  What counts is what King gives us; and vague though it is, it is quite fine.
There are numerous other points of comparison between the two novels, of course.  Here's a partial listing:
  • During the eclipse, Tom warns Jessie about being burned by the sunlight from the eclipse (GG p. 149).  Vera has a fear of being burned by sunlight coming through the glass of the windows in her bedroom (DC p. 46). 
  • Reflecting on punching her brother William after he gooses her when they are kids, Jessie thinks that "the truth, first encountered on that day, was this: there was a well inside her, the water in that well was poisoned, and when he goosed her, William had sent a bucket down there, one which had come up filled with scum and squirming gluck."  (GG p. 12)
  • Gerald's dark sexual opportunism (p. 19) is not dissimilar to the type Dolores sees in Joe (DC p. 78).
  • There are general observations throughout both novels related to the male oppression of women.  Jessie visualizes the meeker aspects of herself as "Goodwife Burlingame," which is a sort of reference to Hawthorne-esque days past in which women like Hester Prynne were made victims by entire communities.  Jessie also reflects on the ways in which Gerald did not take her seriously (p. 32), about crude jokes men might make about women (p. 41-2), about her giving up her teaching career because Gerald wanted her to (p. 101-2); and so forth.  There is less of this in Dolores Claiborne, presumably because Dolores was brought up in a different era, one in which women freeing themselves from male oppression was barely even a thing to dream about.  But what's there rings out quite strongly.  For example, there's a very strong couple of pages (60-1) in which Dolores remembers her father pushing her mother down into a corner of the kitchen because supper wasn't ready; this is a haunting passage not the least because it illustrates how a violent act such as that one has an impact on not only her mother and herself, but on her father as well.  Nobody wins; everyone loses. There is also, of course, the memorable bit (around p. 126) where Dolores realizes that if she'd been a man, the issue of the kids' money being stolen by Joe would have been a non-issue.  [Sidebar: a lot has been made over the years about the feminist politics/agenda of this era of King's career, and some critics feel that King took it too far in Gerald's Game.  Some of you might theoretically be disappointed in me for not dealing with this issue.  I just don't personally find it to BE an issue.  It's not problematic in Dolores Claiborne even to a tiny degree, and while I recognize that there is some of it in Gerald's Game, I personally find it to be a very logical and non-agenda-driven outgrowth of who Jessie is as a character.  Your mileage may vary.  But in case you were wondering why I didn't deal with it here, it's because I just don't care about it.]
  • Both novels deal briefly with the notion of male potency (in the sexual sense [i.e., boners and/or the lack thereof]) being tied to male notions of power, self-worth, self-determination, etc.  After Dolores whops him upside the head with the pitcher of cream, Joe is seemingly unable to get it up, at least around her; and Gerald seems to have had to get a series of bondage games going in able to get hard for Jessie.
  • Both novels lean fairly heavily on mentions of smells to express various negative things.
  • There is a decent amount of political -- actual political, I mean (as in Republicans vs. Democrats) -- content, some of it in the subtext but some right out in the open.  Joe St. George, for example, is a stereotypical lefty-hating rube.  He's racist, but in a vague and ill-defined way (he seems somehow to have gotten the idea that FDR was a Jew); he hates colleges, which he sees as Communist hotbeds.  He seriously may as well be wearing a red MAGA hat.  Meanwhile, Gerald is a stockbroker, one whom Jessie met at a "Republican mixer"; so he's almost certainly a hardcore Reaganite.  This, of course (I hope it goes without saying), does not itself make Gerald a bad person; Joe's attitudes probably do.  Still, one suspects the two of them could have a solid conversation about hating Democrats, even if they agreed on nothing else.
That political note can serve as a transition into the way I want to take us out of this post: by considering one additional area where the two novels overlap thematically -- the use of the color gray to denote the oppressive pull of reality (as opposed to the carnival atmosphere of optimism).

We'll dive into Gerald's Game again: on p. 73, Jessie finds herself thinking back to her college days in the early seventies.  She recalls that she had almost spilled her secret about what happened on Dark Score Lake at a women's consciousness group she attended with her roommate, Ruth Neary.  Attending this meeting "had seemed harmless enough, just another act in the amazing tie-dyed carnival that was college back then.  For Jessie, those first two years of college -- particularly with someone like Ruth Neary to tour her through the games, rides, and exhibits -- had been for the most part quite wonderful, a time when fearlessness seemed usual and achievement inevitable."  "It had all been a little too bright to be real, like things seen through a fever which is not quite high enough to be life-threatening.  In fact, those first two years had been a blast.  The blast had ended with that first meeting of the women's consciousness group.  In there, Jessie had discovered a ghastly gray world which seemed simultaneously to preview the adult future that lay ahead for her in the eighties and to whisper of gloomy childhood secrets that had been buried alive in the sixties . . . but did not lie quiet there."

The change is prompted by the stories the attendees tell: "ghastly stories of rape, of incest, or physical torture.  If she lived to be a hundred she would never forget the calm, pretty blonde girl who had pulled up her sweater to show the old scars of cigarette burns on the undersides of her breasts."

What follows is perhaps one of the single best paragraphs King has ever written:

That was when the carnival ended for Jessie Mahout.  Ended?  No, that wasn't right.  It was as if she had been afforded a momentary glimpse behind the carnival; had been allowed to see the gray and empty fields of autumn that were the real truth: nothing but empty cigarette wrappers and used condoms and a few cheap broken prizes caught in the tall grass, waiting to either blow away or be covered beyond the thin layer of patched canvas which was all that separated it from the razzle-dazzle brightness of the midway, the patter of the hucksters, and the glimmer-glamour of the rides, and it terrified her.  To think that only this lay ahead for her, only this and nothing more, was awful; to think that it lay behind her as well, imperfectly hidden by the patched and tawdry canvas of her own doctored memories, was insupportable.

This will be echoed later when Jessie is in an active sort of dream-state, trying to find some sort of a clue in her past that will help her extricate herself from the handcuffs.  She dreams/imagines that she is back on the day of the eclipse.  "Look out on the lake! Daddy tells her, and when she does, she sees a weird twilight creeping over a lackluster world from which every strong color has been subtracted, leaving nothing but subdued pastels."  (P. 230)

And, of course, we will get similar observations in Dolores Claiborne, such as these on p. 25:

Thursdays was cleanin' days at the Donovans'.  It's a huge house -- you don't have any idear until you're actually wanderin around inside it -- but most of it's closed off.  The days when there might be half a dozen girls with their hair done up in kerchiefs, polishin here and warshin windows there and dustin cobwebs outta the ceiling corners somewhere else, are twenty years or more in the past.  I have walked through those gloomy rooms sometimes, lookin at the furniture swaddled up in dust-sheets, and thought of how the place used to look back in the fifties, when they had their summer parties -- there was always different-colored Japanese lanterns on the lawn, how well I remember that! -- and I get the funniest chill.  In the end the bright colors always go out of life, have you ever noticed that?  In the end things always look gray, like a dress that's been warshed too many times.

Moving stuff, that.  Here's another bit (p. 90), which comes at the same idea from a different angle.  Dolores and Selena are aboard the ferry, about to have their big conversation:

We stood there awhile, watchin the wake spread back toward the mainland.  The sun was on the wester by then, beatin a track across the water, and the wake broke it up and made it look like pieces of gold.  When I was a little girl, my Dad used to tell me it was gold, and that sometimes the mermaids came up and got  it.  He said they used those broken pieces of late-afternoon sunlight as shingles on their magic castles under the sea.  When I saw that kind of broken golden track on the water, I always watched it for mermaids, and until I was almost Selena's age I never doubted there were such things, because my Dad had told me there were.

Hey, why'm I seein two of everything all of a sudden?  Not sure, but it's gonna make it damn difficult to transcribe this bit from p. 107:

Joe was sittin by the stove readin the American, like he done every single night.  I stood by the woodbox, lookin at him, and that eye inside seemed to open wider'n ever.  Lookit him, I thought, sittin there like the Grand High Poohbah of Upper Butt-Crack.  Sittin there like he didn't have to put on his pants one leg at a time like the rest of us.  Sittin there as if puttin his hands all over his only daughter was the most natural thing in the world and any man could sleep easy after doin it.  I tried to think of how we'd gotten from the Junior-Senior Prom at The Samoset Inn to where we were right now, him sittin by the stove and readin the paper in his old patched bluejeans and dirty thermal underwear and me standin by the woodbox with murder in my heart, and I couldn't do it.  It was like bein in a magic forest where you look back over your shoulder and see the path has disappeared behind you.

This, my friends, is what these novels are actually about in my eyes: the disappearance of happiness from the lives of their main characters.  Yeah, sure, they're about an eclipse, and they're about incest, and they're about women who kill their husbands (intentionally and otherwise).  But what they're really about is how in one moment the world is place that is enjoyable and appealing and worth being alive in and in the next moment it's a place where you can't take a good step without stabbing yourself in the foot with broken glass.

I think a lot of King's work has this idea at the heart of it.  In typing the above bits, I had occasion to think of other King books such as The Dead Zone (where another carnival goes bad in a moment), Hearts In Atlantis (yet another shabby carnival, plus a lot of stuff about the hippie generation's failures), Revival (yet ANOTHER one with peeks behind the carnival into the real reality), Joyland (ditto), and Needful Things (where Leland Gaunt's titular objects are eventually revealed to be mere "gray things" masquerading as whatever their possessor wishes them to be).  I'm sure there are plenty of others, too.  It's a big topic; it's a big body of work.

And I'm telling you, for my money, these two novels are gems within it.

Let's have a sort of happy ending, how 'bout it?

It comes from p. 281 of Gerald's Game, from the beginning of the first chapter that takes place after Jessie's ordeal in the house at Kashwakamak:

It had been snowing all morning -- gloomy, but good letter-writing weather -- and when a bar of sun fell across the keyboard of the Mac, Jessie glanced up in surprise, startled out of her thoughts.  What she saw out the window did more than charm her; it filled her with an emotion she had not experienced for a long time and hadn't expected to experience again for a long time to come, if ever.  It was joy -- a deep, complex joy she could never have explained.
     The snow hadn't stopped -- not entirely, anyway -- but a bright February sun had broken through the clouds overhead, turning both the fresh six inches on the ground and the snow still floatingdown through the air to a brilliant diamantine white.  The window offered a sweeping view of Portland's Eastern Promenade, and it was a view which had soothed and fascinated Jessie in all weathers and seasons, but she had never seen anything quite like this; the combination of snow and sun had turned the gray air over Casco Bay into a fabulous jewel-box of interlocking rainbows.

Ain't no words from me gonna top that.


  1. 1. It never occurred to me that I would myself asking this, however, do you suppose King has read anything by Vladimir Nabokov?

    The reason I ask has to do with what I learned about how Nabokov composed his books. He's a writer I'll admit I've avoided until my otherwise unrelated interest in esoteric symbolism in literature lead me to discover the presence of alchemy in Nabokov's work:

    Another good resource is found here:

    It's just that reading this post, with all the clever hints of intertwined narrative threads, and hints of a bigger pattern, all put me in mind of the kind of legerdemain Nabokov often brought to most of his works.

    I don't know, it's just something that popped into my head while reading is all.

    2. To be honest, the one King character I think Vera resembles is Liz Garfield from "Hearts in Atlantis". The argument could be made that Vera is what Liz would have been like in more upper class circumstances.

    3. As to the theory of Vera's power, Peter Straub has some interesting thoughts to bring on the subject.

    In "Floating Dragon", Straub describes a specific type of psychic ability.

    To be continued.


    1. 1. As widely-read as King is, I can't imagine that he hasn't. (I myself am familiar only with the Kubrick version of "Lolita," which is good but one of my least favorite of his films.) I think Nabokov's description of his characters as "galley slaves" to his work seems a bit far-flung compared to King's own descriptions of them as being almost like real people living inside his head.

      However, that DID put me in mind of King's occasional comparison of mental processes as being either blue-collar workers running mechanical equipment or white-collar office-building types. This is something he uses briefly in "Gerald's Game," in fact.

      So maybe there's something there.

      2. I can see that. But I can also see Jessie in Liz (who is taken advantage of sexually by some rather disreputable men). Very interesting!

      3. Ooh! That's interesting. I have such a crappy memory that I can't quite remember what you're referring to, but my gut tells me you are onto something. We certainly know that King took some inspiration from Straub's work in general and from "Floating Dragon" particularly.

      I looks forward to the continuation on this one! Even more than usual, I mean.

    2. Continued from above.

      In "FD", Straub refers to a power shared between one of the main characters, and her grandmother:

      "When the old woman's eyes had finally me hers, she had felt as transparent as glass. In those eyes had been a matter of fact despair and an understanding beyond death. The only difference between Patsy and her grandmother was that Grandmother Taylor was better at it. Before she reached puberty, Patsy was able to move small objects across a table, to switch on lights and open doors, just by seeing these occurrences in her mind and surrounding them with a yellow glow of intention. This ability was her secret, her best secret. She had known instantly that Grandmother Taylor could do much more than that-that if she'd wanted, Grandmother Taylor could have brought down the hospital on all sides of her and walked away free and unharmed (117, mass market paperback ed)".

      A bit later on, Straub refers to this same power as:

      "...that gift that never makes anybody happy, that bitches up lives left and right (130, same ed.)".

      I know it's funny, but might these lines have been a subconscious factor in the making of both novels?

      I believe the answer to this question is pretty self-evident: (shrugs) search me.

      4. I think Jack Burton's motto is probably the best anyone's likely to find. Although recently, I've wondered whether I've wandered into a bad spy parody, something done by Pete Sellers on a dull high trip or something of that nature.


    3. 3. Yeah, I remember that bit now! I remember thinking at the time that it was Straub's way of kind of grabbing the baton from King, who had done similar things in "The Shining" and (to a lesser extent) "Carrie" and "Firestarter." It really reminded me of the shine itself, which is something that occurred to me during my rereads of these two novels.

      I know you're a massive fan of "The Shining." What do you think about that? Does it feel to you as if Straub might have been consciously trying to channel that novel?

      4. Ah, "The Mouse That Roared"! That's a great movie. Haven't seen it in forever.

    4. 3. I'll admit, sometimes I think it's possible to say, well, "Ghost Story" is just a slightly sunnier version of "Salem's Lot" with specters instead of vampires, and yet even if that we're true, I can't say that it ruins my experience of the book in any way.

      As for whether it's being unfair to King, or trying to grab the baton, I have to admit I never got that particular vibe from Straub. He always seemed intent on not repeating himself, so maybe it makes sense to say he was aware of certain story molds in the genre, and decided to just do his required thing in those molds, and then move on, at least it explains his sparse output well enough.


    5. To be clear, I didn't mean it in a negative sense toward Straub. I get the feeling that he and King kind of fed off of each others' work to some limited extent during the early part of the eighties; kind of like how The Chowder Society in "Ghost Story" is echoed in The Club in "The Breathing Method." I don't think of that as a lift, I think of it as an homage, or, in terms Straub might approve of, as two jazzmen working with similar melodies but very different solos.

  2. (1) I remember reading reviews for both NEEDFUL THINGS and for GERALD'S GAME in the Sunday paper, altho I didn't read either of them until 2012. I can't recall if I saw a review of DOLORES CLAIBORNE at the time - I don't think so, but I may have just forgotten. So, the idea of their being connected wasn't on my radar at the time, alas, although I think the intersection/ linked-by-eclipse idea is a good one.

    (2) Is there a poster map of the Maine Kingverse? Hell, I'd blow up that eclipse one and hang it up, that'd be fine by me.

    (3) Those 2 paragraphs you chose from DC are great. It can sometimes be tough for me to read an entire novel in "diction" or in a voice as "local color" as DC, but not the case with this one. DC is a great book. I think authors should do this stuff more, actually - at least the ones who can pull it off. Since King is one of those, maybe we'll get lucky. "Jerusalem's Lot" is written in its own distinctive (Victorian) voice, as is EYES OF THE DRAGON and so many others, so maybe I'm being greedy. But book-length, I mean.

    (4) "It was like bein in love, only inside out" is indeed a great line. Perhaps even the line of the novel.

    (5) I vaguely recall the eye connection between Vera and Dolores, but I hadn't specifically ruminated on it as you do. That's a good call. The number of sudden - if narratively justified and still engaging - psychic connections between protagonists rises once more!

    (6) Count me among those for whom the narrative device of different voices in Jessie's head being assigned to different people works just fine. I think this was transcribed well to the film, as well, although I can't for the life of me remember if Ruth is even IN the movie. Did Bruce Greenwood get all her lines? Sheesh - a gaping hole in my memory of the film has opened up.

    (7) Now that I read these excerpts from DC concerning the psychic powers of Vera, I am reminded it was not all that sudden after all. Definitely there, definitely woven deftly into place. It might be a well (no pun intended) King returns to far too often for my taste, but he rarely handles it badly. So who cares? Not me. Usually. Anyway! I don't think it hit me quite like this on my first read, either, so I'm in good company.

    (8) I like the idea of a power chart of telepathy/ mental powers for the Kingverse as you started to do here. That'd be a fun subject for a post!

    (9) "This, my friends, is what these novels are actually about in my eyes: the disappearance of happiness from the lives of their main characters. " Very interesting! Using that as the lens for both works makes a great deal of sense. To use King's storytelling metaphor, that might be the right tool for the job/ the right shovel for the dig.

    (10) Slight parting of the ways on those paragraphs at the end: I think they're a tad overdone for my taste. But, some pretty writing for sure.

    1. (1) Ah, yes, newspaper reviews -- the pre-internet internet! Boys are THOSE days over.

      (2) I have never seen such a poster, but now that you mention it, it seems like an awfully obvious idea for somebody to make some money off of.

      (3) I'd be happy for him to write in that vein more often. He does it well. (I say that, and then instantly shudder to think about him deciding to write an entire novel from the perspective of Jerome of "Mr. Mercedes" fame, but in his Tyrone Feelgood or whatever it was persona. Kill me.)

      (4) One of the best of his career, mayhap!

      (5) If questioned about it before the reread, I'd've been totally unable to remember ANY sort of psychic thing with Vera. I swear I think I just didn't notice it earlier in life.

      (6) Unless I misremember it, Ruth is 100% absent from the movie. I believe most of that was transferred onto a stronger version of Jessie herself, and a lot of the rest to Gerald. I am looking forward to watching the movie again with the book so fresh in mind. I thought it was a terrific adaptation.

      (7) I agree that he probably goes to that well too often. I could have lived without it being a part of "Pet Sematary," for example, and it was a complete distraction in "Joyland." But it ruined neither novel, so hey, no big.

      (8) Ooh, yeah, I like that idea. I'm too lazy to do it anytime soon, but I do like it.

      (9) Either that, or it's the mood I'm in these days! Or both. What's interesting, though, is that "Gerald's Game" ends up being about Jessie finding light peeking out of the clouds, and "Dolores Claiborne" ends with Dolores performing an enormous act of charity. So while both I think the disappearance of happiness is definitely a large aspect of both books, I think I might have dropped the ball in not emphasizing more of the redemptive aspects.

      (10) I can see that. Personally, I feel as if they're earned, given how dour the rest of the novel has been. I tried to steer clear of going into autobiographical readings of these novels, but I wonder how much of this novel's end was inspired by King finally kicking his various addictions. He was not far removed from doing so when this one came out.

    2. (10) I had a similar idea. I know from my friends who are in AA/ NA a big mantra is "fake it til you make it." I think (and King said the same thing in ON WRITING, come to think of it) he just sort of kept repeating to himself that everyone was right and he'd get better eventually, even if he didn't believe it/ live it for the first few years. So, chronologically, around the time of GG, I can see him in those first, tentative steps back on the road to normalcy/ happiness/ believing he could live again outside the shadow of his own eclipse, there.

    3. Well put!

      I failed to take note of it in my posts, I think, but the Serenity Prayer pops up at some point in the novel, too. Plus Joe's alcoholism is a major aspect of "Dolores Claiborne."

      Interesting that he'd choose to explore that in a pair of novels where the protagonists are women instead of men. Maybe he needed to distance the ideas from himself a bit? Or -- and this is equally likely, if not more -- the ideas came first and he simply decided to be empathetic in a manner that he understood.

      Old King, boy; he's an interesting cat, and his work reflects it.