Stephen King’s short story, The Gingerbread Girl, appeared in Esquire magazine in July 2007 and was published this year as one of the stories in King’s Just After Sunset collection. It has also been released as a standalone two-disc, roughly two-hour, audio book narrated by Mare Winningham, the version of the story that I recently experienced.
Emily, a young woman whose marriage has begun to fall apart after the crib death of her only baby, is the “Gingerbread Girl” of the book’s title. Searching for a way to maintain her sanity after the tragic loss of her child, she soon becomes obsessed with her daily runs, extends them to longer and longer distances and, in the process, convinces her husband that she has become mentally unstable. When a minor spat with her husband suddenly flares into something more serious, Emily hits the door and literally runs right out of her husband’s life.
Taking a page from the fairy tale Gingerbread Man’s book (“Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”), Emily depends on her legs to outrun her troubles and conflicts. She will soon learn, however, that running in the wrong direction can be more dangerous than not running at all.
Emily retreats to her father’s little beach house on Florida’s remote Vermillion Key where she is content in her aloneness and continues to add to the mileage she is capable of running. All goes well and one day she is surprised to find herself ready to invite her father to join her in the Keys for a few days. But then, despite having been warned by her only friend on the island that one of the wealthy homeowners has arrived with another of his “nieces” and that she should avoid the man, Emily lets curiosity get the best of her and practically runs into the arms of a serial killer.
At this point, The Gingerbread Girl can only hope that her legs will be able to save her from becoming the killer’s next victim. Since she is trapped on a very small island, that might not be as easy as it sounds even for a trained runner like Emily.
Mare Winningham’s presentation helps make Emily into a comfortably believable character, a woman suffering terribly and unable to express that pain to anyone who might be able to help her grieve. She is by far the most complete character in the story, especially when contrasted with the man chasing her, a character that remains a stereotypical villain to the end. It could be that the limitations of the short story format kept King from more fully developing his killer, but that failure kept me from reaching the tension level that I have come to expect from a Stephen King thriller. I suspect that this one would have made a better novel than short story.
Rated at: 2.5