Friday, June 15, 2007

The Gingerbread Girl

Ordinarily, I would never buy Esquire magazine. There's too many glossy pages pimping $500 shoes, high-tech thingamajigs, cologne, booze, how-to-get-laid essays typed by condescending liars, jewelry, ozone-destroying SUVs, and unnaturally-realistic plastic dolls who almost look like real women. Behind the smug, big-money attitude, Esquire is not as smart, hip, or progressively-minded as it thinks it is. At least Vanity Fair has James Wolcott.

Still, accidents happen from time to time. For a start, having the delicious elegance of Angelina Jolie (lust slobber drool) on the cover of the July issue is smart.

Boasting of a new Stephen King novella inside, however, is genius.

There was a JuCo with a cinder track not too far from the house. She began to drive over there in the early mornings just after Henry left for work. Henry didn't understand the running. Jogging, sure--lots of women jogged. Keep those extra four pounds off the old fanny, keep those extra two inches off the old waistline. But Em didn't have an extra four pounds on her backside, and besides, jogging was no longer enough. She had to run, and fast. Only fast running would do.

She parked at the track and ran until she could run no more, until her sleeveless FSU sweatshirt was dark with sweat down the front and back and she was shambling and sometimes puking with exhaustion.

Henry found out. Someone saw her there, running all by herself at eight in the morning, and told him. They had a discussion about it. The discussion escalated into a marriage-ending argument.

"It's a hobby," she said.

"Jodi Anderson said you ran until you fell down. She was afraid you'd had a heart attack. That's not a hobby, Em. Not even a fetish. It's an obsession."

And he looked at her reproachfully. It would be a little while yet before she picked up the book and threw it at him, but that was what really tore it. 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.

The Gingerbread Woman starts out as a quiet, heartbreaking story of Emily, a lonely wife slowly recovering from the death of her child and the end of her marriage. Running is the only thing that gives Emily peace, and it becomes a disturbing compulsion. But then, Emily's poignant tale ominously turns into a terrifying, woman-fighting-for-her-life-against-a-homicidal-killer nailbiter. Emily is a character worth cheering for, and King's stunning last paragraph would squeeze tears from Dick Cheney.

Good job, Esquire.