In my ongoing efforts to read some of the older books on my shelves, I decided to pick up Thinner by Richard Bachman. You are asking yourself, “Who is Richard Bachman?” Well, you actually know him by his real name as he is one of the most famous writers of the last few decades! Back when he was at the height of his powers and the undisputed ruler of the horror genre, Stephen King created the Bachman pen name in an attempt to publish more books than what he was allowed at the time. It also gave the master of horror the opportunity to see if he could become a success a second time around. Well at least one of these two things happened. The first four books by the mysterious recluse Richard Bachman were all very different books than what his creator Stephen King was known to write. Both Rage and Roadwork were dark realistic stories. The Long Walk and The Running Man fit in the genre of dystopian science fiction. Sadly, these books saw very modest success. Everything changed, however, with the release of the supernatural tale Thinner.
It is unsurprising that the constant readers of the world figured out the real identity of Richard Bachman. Although the previous Bachman books contained none of the usual trappings of a Stephen King work, Thinner was classic King. A supernatural tale with some truly frightening parts, it was only a matter of time before King was discovered as its architect. All the classic motifs are here. There are sentences that are broken up by italicized words. The climax of the book takes place in the great state of Maine, home to most of King’s oeuvre. There’s even a line where one the characters tells Billy he is starting to sound a little like a Stephen King novel. Maybe he wanted to get caught or at least see if he could slip that little jab in there. Once the truth was out, sales naturally skyrocketed. It was have been interesting to see how the life of King’s alter-ego would have played out had the ruse not been up. Occasionally, King still releases books under his former pseudonym. They all share one trait in common, as they are all some of the darkest body of work created by King.
It had been several years since I read any Stephen King, and it was fun to read this short horror novel. Billy Halleck is a lawyer who is living the good life with his wife and teenage daughter. Despite being about fifty pounds overweight, he has a genuinely happy life. His wife is constantly nagging him to lose weight, which he promises he will as he sneaks Big Macs and deserts with equal abandon. Then one night, Billy accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman (due to being distracted by his wife giving him a handjob in the car). Due to knowing the right people, Billy gets off (no pun intended) with a slap on the wrist. As he is leaving the courthouse, the woman’s father places a curse on him. the old gypsy runs one finger down Billy’s cheek and whispers one word….thinner.
At first, Billy is pleased that he has dropped a few pounds. As the weight continues to fall off at an alarming rate, Billy becomes frightened. When the men that helped save him from a manslaughter charge succumb to curses of their own, Billy is in a race for time to track down the traveling gypsy in order to have the curse removed. King does well in building the tension slowly in this novel, despite being one of his shorter works. I also love how King can create very realistic characters. I felt some sympathy for Halleck as the accident wasn’t his fault, but he was far from being one of King’s more likable characters. I didn’t like his wife Heidi either. Probably the best character in this story is Richard Ginelli, one of Billy’s former clients who has ties to organized crime. Despite having reservations about involving him, Billy turns to Ginelli for help in convincing the old gypsy to take the curse off him. The old gangster is more than happy to oblige and show the gypsies the American brand of curse. I was truly shocked at how events unfolded at the end of the book.
Another aspect of Thinner that I really liked was how the book explored some human themes such as guilt, revenge, and the psychological damage that comes from trauma. Halleck goes through all manner of emotions from fear to anger, and all of these come out very convincingly. King certainly can take you on a thrill ride. This is by far not even close to the best book he has written, or even the best “Bachman” book out there (The Long Walk wins that award for me). Thinner is a fun read. Just strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.