Maciek's Reviews > Thinner

Thinner by Richard Bachman
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Nov 22, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: horror, owned-books, own-in-paperback, saw-movie, favorites, reviewed
Read from September 07 to 09, 2010

'Thinner,' the old Gypsy man with the rotting nose whispers to William Halleck as Halleck and his wife, Heidi, come out of the courthouse. Just that one word, sent on the wafting, cloying sweetness of his breath. 'Thinner.' And before Halleck can jerk away, the old Gypsy reaches out and caresses his cheek with one twisted finger. His lips spread open like a wound, showing a few tombstone stumps poking out of his gums. They are black and green. His tongue squirms between them and then slides out to slick his grinning, bitter lips.
Thinner.


Richard Bachman was not a very nice guy, and "Thinner" shows why. It was the last Bachman novel, before the cover was finally blown and it turned out that Richard Bachman was in fact Stephen King.
Or as King prefers to say, his dark half. The fingers that typed out the Bachman books might have been King's, but the one who sent words to the fingertips was old Richie. The creep from grocery stalls, airports and train stations, whose novels were printed without any sort of advertising and promotion, and who gained his reputation by word of mouth alone.
In fact, "Thinner" sold 28 000 copies when it was published, which is over ten thousand more than King's collection "Night Shift" did several years earlier. Of course, when it turned out that both were copyrighted by the same guy the sales of "Thinner" went through the roof.

It's hard for me to choose a favorite from the Bachman books, but I can safely say that Thinner is a perfect closure to a career that ended much too soon. The Bachman novels were all pretty grim, but I think that Thinner, together with The Long Walk, are the most thought-provoking and interesting.
Also, Thinner is the sole Bachman novel that can be classified as horror, though it is much more than that.

As with "Quitters, inc.", a classic short story about giving up smoking, King took another of the American nightmares and turned it around - weight. Billy Haleck, the protagonist, is a succesful lawyer who also happens to be fifty pounds overweight. Billy is camping at the border of heart attack country; his doctor, his wife, hell everyone tells him to drop some pounds, but Billy just can't get enough of the sweet taste, of the sour taste, of all delicious tastes of all delicious food. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!

One night while Billy is driving home and his wife, um, distracts him, he hits an old gypsy woman who dies instantly. The case is quickly dismissed; after all, Billy is a lawyer and no one in town is exactly a fan of gypsies. Just as Billy gets out of the courthouse, the old gyp comes to Billy and touches his cheek, whispering the sole, menacing word - "thinner".

Billy dismisses the old man as mad, and goes back to his life as if nothing had happened. Till he hits the scale. He notices that he starts losing weight - at first he, his wife and his physician are all happy and rejoice in the blissful success of all diets he undertook. But when the pounds keep dropping and Billy keeps eating he starts being suspicious. He's not afraid of cancer, because his results were perfect...he's afraid that the old gyp might have meant what he said.
And the pounds keep dropping...

The strenght of "Thinner" lies in its complexity. Most works deal with likable protagonists and unlikable villains. That's not the case with "Thinner" - it's up to the reader to decide whom he will root for. If there is a person to like - After all, Billy did kill the old gyspy woman; and after all, the old gypsy's revenge is much out of proportion. "Thinner" is not a simple horror story, as many would pigeonhole it; the clever meachnisms of characterization and themes allow "Thinner" to work on several levels: as a cautionary tale on the pointlesness of conflict and hatred, the clash of cultures, family drama, corruption...the story of the white man and the gyp who crossed him. Or is it the other way round?

I don't want to spoilt any of the plot detail, because it's truly a jou to watch it unfold. The novel was adapted into a movie in 1996, and while it greatly simplifies the novel it carries most of the story thanks to great performances of Robert John Burke and Joe Mantegna-. It's definitely worth seeing, but only after you've read the book.
"Thinner" is one of the great horrormeister's most underrated works and deserves to be much better known and appreciated. It will make you turn the page, it will make you think and question your decisions, I don't know if it will scare you but you'll certainly remember it long after turning the last page. Eat hearty.

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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Bondama (last edited Nov 20, 2010 10:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bondama Mac, I completely agree - I have always thought that "Thinner" was one of King's most underrated works. Grim, yes, but as he has always done, King researched enough of the Romany culture to ring very, very true -- I don't think, viewed in that perspective, that the old man's revenge IS out of proportion; he (the Rom) has not only lost his wife, but a member of his tribe. His revenge is not too much, in his eyes.

But, I'm really glad to find another person who truly loves this Bachman book - Oddly enough, it was the first Bachman I read, and I knew by then that the writer was Stephen King. After I found the rest of the Bachmans, I could separate the Bachman world view from the King world view. It's almost a pity that the pseudonym was discovered (although inevitable) because I liked the different flavor of both "mens' works.


Maciek Thanks. When I was referring to the old Gypsy's revenge being "out of proportion" I was speaking from the perspective of a person coming from a completely different cultural background. It's not just an eye for an eye; it's much worse than that. I was impressed by King's research of the Gypsy culture, and while I was never particularly interested in them I found the book really interesting precisely because of that aspect.

I enjoyed all of Bachman's output, and think that Thinner is the sole novel that's somehow overlooked. I can understand your comment about the two "writers" being different. Bachman is much darker - all of his works published before the identification - Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man and Thinner - are much more depressing and dark than the whole of King's output. Guess there truly was a "dark half" who just had to get out. BTW, Did you see the movie adaptation? I saw it yesterday, and it prompted me to write a review for the book.


Bondama For some reason, I've never seen the movie of "Thinner" -- as opposed to yourself, I've been totally fascinated by Romany culture since I was fairly young. My paternal grandfather was a Traveler from Wales (different from the Rom - but similar) - The Rom are originally from East India - their language, Romany, is an Indic language whose closest relative is Sanscrit. The Travelers are unique to the British Isles, and of a much older culture than the Rom. They speak a language more related to the Gaelic called Shelta Thari - But they both have a tribal system, though, and both consider themselves loyal only to each other. To the Rom, anything they need to survive can be played off the Gorgio (us) - To the Tinkers (Travelers' most common name in Ireland) - the same applies.

(Sorry 'bout the mini-lecture - unfortunately you touched one of my passions!!)


Maciek That's completely all right. Thanks for sharing that information.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Great review, Maciek. I finished reading this, and that last paragraph both horrified and facinated me! I wont forget this story in a hurry! What a great book :)


Maciek Thank you, Briony! I agree. I really enjoyed Thinner. I think I'll read it again sometime when I'll have the time.


message 7: by Reymart (new) - added it

Reymart Dinglasa It could have been amazing if Ole Richie has never been exposed as Stevie himself early in his career, but knowing that he is Stevie's darkest alter ego it was scary... but thank god Richie has made his mark.


Maciek I agree, Reymart! In his foreword to The Bachman Books King writes that he planned to release Misery as Richard Bachman. Who knows how Bachman's career could have turned out if he was not exposed?


message 9: by Reymart (new) - added it

Reymart Dinglasa Whooow!! Misery is sure...morbid. I will surely read The Bachman Books to know more about the short lived Richard.


Maciek Please do - they are all good! :)


message 11: by Adam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Adam You were too generous with this review. This is hardly the perfect novel. I mean, I liked it, but this wasn't my favorite Bachman book. "Rage," "The Long Walk," Roadwork." Those three were all good. After that, they were all downhill. I mean, "Blaze" has some merit to it, but only after a second reading.


Maciek I'm not saying it's perfect - I found it to be highly enjoyable and a bit of a hidden gem in his bibliography. It does things right - offers an engaging story with interesting characters which is well paced and captivates the reader to the end. The general premise is a fun one, and so is the book - even the film made of it is good!


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