“The Gingerbread Girl” is a 56-page novella originally published in the July issue of Esquire magazine on 15 June 2007, and later included as the second entry in King’s own 2008 collection Just After Sunset. An audiobook version of the story, read by Mare Winningham, was released by Simon & Schuster audio on 6 May 2008.
After the baby died, Emily took up running.
So starts a story about a marriage falling apart following their baby’s death, a story about motherly loss and finding ways to cope with it, a story about to go terribly wrong when she crosses the path of a serial killer out to get her.
The first part of the book is an emotional rollercoaster. Emily and Henry’s marriage is on the rocks and there’s no trying to make it better. She blames herself for the baby’s death even though crib deaths are not an unusual occurrence (though a sad one)
More than 2,000 babies died of SIDS in 2010, the last year for which such statistics are available. Most SIDS deaths occur when in babies between 1 month and 4 months of age, and the majority (90%) of SIDS deaths occur before a baby reaches 6 months of age. However SIDS deaths can occur anytime during a baby’s first year
They have tried to work it out, she tried to be the strong one in their partnership, but it wasn’t working well, as she had no-one to comfort her.
She believed that comfort, not bread, was the staff of life. Maybe eventually she would be able to find some for herself. In the meantime, she had produced a defective baby.
She takes up running in an attempt to find the limits to her own endurance, and possibly as a form of punishment and catharsis. Her marriage finally collapses in a final argument and she picks up her card and moves immediately into a motel and phones her dad for help.
That reproachful look. She could no longer stand it. Given his rather long face, it was like having a sheep in the house. I married a Dorset gray, she thought, and now it’s just baa-baa-baa, all day long.
She moves in into her dad’s summer house in an estate designed for the rich, the very rich and the absurdly rich and spends her time running on the beach and healing.
“There’s plenty of beach to run on, and a good long stretch of road, too. As you well know. And you won’t have to elbow people out of your way. Between now and October, Vermillion is as quiet as it ever gets.”
It’s only when a new neighbor turns up before the summer ends that she gets into trouble. While running past his house, she notices some blonde hair coming out of the trunk of the car and bits of blood. She gets smacked over the head and when she comes through she finds herself as the latest victim of a psychopathic serial killer. He is truly deranged, bringing young girls to kill for years and years to the same place, having never been caught.
The survival battle begins, wits against wits, she is trying to get him out of the house and find an escape route. She reminded me of the woman in Gerald’s Game. Maybe Stephen King prefers his woman in the most dire of situations to show how they can get out (if they can). I had to stop a few times and take a breather as the tension was killing me. What happens: she manages to slowly untie her taped chair feet from the floor by flexing her calf muscles, manages to destroy the chair against the fridge and get it loose around her and then he returns.
She fights him off and manages to get a good blow to his head and render him unconscious. This is where I was thinking she was going to do what Ender suggested: When your enemy is defeated, continue until he can never raise again to be your enemy. Instead she leaves him there and decides to find a way out of the house. Ummm, phones, anyone?
He wakes up and begins to follow her from floor to floor until she is trapped in a bedroom with no escape. Remembering her younger years, she jumps through the glass window, rolls upon landing, and starts running towards the beach in an attempt to lose him. She finds a Mexican guy on the beach and with broken Spanish she asks for help. He tells him that she’s been drinking and is a bit crazy so the poor guy does not know what or who to believe. In the end, Mr. Pinkerton (the killer) drops his scissors from behind his trousers and after a short struggle, stabs the Mexican in the mouth and in the eyes. Poor guy, he just happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
Emily runs towards the water in an attempt to swim away but he catches her and just about as he’s about to stab her, she turns around and pulls him in the water. This is when she finds out that the killer can’t swim! (Talk about Deus Ex Machina and easy way outs!) She manages to use his panic in her advantage and pushes him into the sea where she watches him slowly drown. Retribution.
She should have finished him in the kitchen while he was unconscious.
I really enjoyed The Ginergerbread Girl. I found that Emily was a fully developed, complex character in spite of the limited amount of time that Stephen King had to develop her. Usually, there is a lack of connection between myself and the characters of short stories. This prevents me from becoming invested in the story. That wasn’t the case with The Gingerbread Girl. Because of the time that King took to develop the character at the beginning of the story, telling us about Em’s recent loss and her home life, I found myself concerned with the character’s well being.
We’re not given any backstory on the Mr. Pinkerton character with the exception of knowing he brings a new “niece” to his beach house each year and leaves on a boat after a couple of weeks. The “niece” is never seen again. With Pinkerton, it’s not a big deal that the character isn’t developed anymore than he is. He’s the bad guy. He kills girls and gets away with it. That’s all that is necessary for the story. If I were given a choice, then I would have loved more background on the character, but the lack-there-of does not take away from what he adds to the story.
One thing that I didn’t like about The Gingerbread Girl is how easily Em catches Pinkerton and reveals him as a murderer. This is a guy who has been getting away with murder for untold years and he slips up by leaving a dead body in the trunk of his car with the trunk and residence gate open? How did he get away with killing these girls so long? Someone so careless would be caught very, very quickly. I’m not buying that someone so meticulous, as he is shown to be in the story, would make such a mistake.
Otherwise, good book, good ending, good plot. 5/5