In the mail today.
For years and years I always named THINNER one of my top favorite Stephen King novels. Of course, I was going from the memory of having read it in high school, most likely my freshman year. Now, having revisited the novel at 40 as opposed to 14, I’m not sure I’d place it so close to the top of my list, but it’s still, in my opinion, a pretty good read.
Connecticut lawyer Billy Halleck has recently escaped justice after accidentally running down an old gypsy woman when the judge presiding over the case—a friend of Halleck’s who just happened to not dismiss himself from the case—lets Billy off without so much as a slap on the wrist. So the gypsy woman’s father, Taduz Lemke, decides to take matters into his own hands in the form of a curse. After the hearing, he touches Billy’s cheek and whispers to him the word, “Thinner”. Billy shrugs it off at first, but later that word comes back to him when he steps on the bathroom scale and sees he’s lost a few pounds.
Losing a few pounds is a good thing at first as Billy is a portly fellow, and he needs to drop a few pounds anyway. But when he starts eating even more than he did before, and yet the weight still flies off him, he becomes worried.
And when he discovers the judge who let him off and the officer in charge of the case—the one who didn’t bother giving Billy a breathalyzer test after the accident—have also both been cursed, he realizes he has to do something before he wastes away to nothing.
Meanwhile Billy’s wife Heidi and his doctor insist there’s no such thing as gypsy curses and they try to have Billy involuntarily committed. But before they can act, Billy takes off in search of the gypsies, intent on persuading Lemke to take off the curse. But when his efforts fail, he resorts to less legal means in the form of a former client and current Mafioso, Richard Ginelli.
If you’re one of the five people who still don’t know, THINNER was the final Richard Bachman novel released in the 1970s and 80s when Stephen King was trying to discover if his fame was the result of talent or luck—and to publish more novels without over saturating the market. Shortly after its publication, King was outed as Bachman and the book re-released as a Stephen King novel, “writing as Richard Bachman”.
Sandwiched between behemoth books THE TALISMAN and SKELETON CREW, THINNER is a very small book at only 309 pages. But those 309 pages contain plenty of action and the story moves along at a great pace. King’s writing was tight and sharp and his characters, while not exactly the kind of people you root for, come across as believable and solid, especially Halleck in his relationship with his daughter, and Ginelli in his efforts to help free Billy from the curse. While it’s never stated outright, there’s a real respect on Ginelli’s part and a desire to do right by Billy, a man whom he sees as a friend in a life with few real friends to begin with. There’s even mention earlier in the novel of Ginelli telling Halleck, once he makes partner in his law firm, that he should probably not come around much anymore in order to keep his reputation from being tarnished by his association with Ginelli. And even though several years pass between visits, Ginelli doesn’t hesitate to jump at the chance to help his old friend the moment Billy needs it. I think that was always one of the aspects I liked most about this book over the years. It’s just a little thing and probably not as big a deal as it came across to me, but the respect and devotion Ginelli shows Billy, the lengths he goes to to help his friend, who is in desperate need of help, was excellently portrayed by King.
Another aspect of the story I felt King really pulled off well was Halleck’s feelings toward his wife which go from loving and appreciative in the beginning to the end where things have taken a complete 180. I won’t give details, but Halleck sort of blames his wife, in part, for what happened and when she totally dismisses his theory of the gypsy curse and then tries to have him committed, the honeymoon is obviously over. Granted, I felt that note was a little overplayed at times and does not help the reader to sympathize with the Halleck character at all—like I said, these aren’t people you root for—but it was managed with King’s usual gradual touch. That touch is, for me, what made THE SHINING and ‘SALEM’S LOT such successful novels, and it’s used to great effect in THINNER as well.
I don’t think the novel, as a whole, is quite as effective as I remembered it being for 20+ years, but it’s still a good novel and a worthwhile read. It’s a vicious story with equally vicious characters and it doesn’t waste a lot of time on unnecessary subplots or sidetracks. King’s focus was clearly on telling this story as succinctly as possible, the end result being a quick, energetic read, offering a terrifically horrifying situation, and told in a way that doesn’t waste a single word. It may not be in my top five anymore (considering he’s written over 40 novels since then) but THINNER is still, in my opinion, a dmn good read.
It by Stephen King
Signet Books; Sep 1987
Do not turn the page.
We hear there is a MONSTER at the end of this book.
(And we probably do not want monsters on Tumblr now, do we?)
The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
Ballantine Books; Nov 1978
Siddons born today, Jan 9, in 1936