The Stephen King Project – Thinner (1984)
About the project
I will be reading all of Stephen King’s books in order of publication (with the exception of The Dark Tower series which I will read together, at the end of this adventure) and writing a review of each. I’ll be looking at the recurring themes, the tricks he likes to use, the way he develops character and the way that his craft has evolved in the 46 years since Carrie was first published.
At this point in the project, we’ve covered a decade of King’s career and nineteen books. (He had published twenty by now, but I didn’t read Rage, for reasons explained earlier in this series.) There’s a reason this man is known for being prolific.
Now, Thinner was the last of the Bachman books – or at least the last one before King’s cover was blown – and for me, it’s the book most like the rest of his work. It doesn’t surprise me that this is the one that caused a bookseller named Steve Brown to identify Bachman as King.
Thinner is another example of how Stephen King can take a small, everyday concept and somehow, miraculously, turn it into a powerful novel. On the surface, Thinner is about a guy losing weight. That’s it. I’ve heard that the idea came to King when he was told by his doctor that he should lose some weight and that sent his mind down the road to wonder; what if you started losing weight but couldn’t stop?
Billy Halleck is a lawyer, doing well in his firm, liked by the police and judges that he has to work with, happily married with a teenage daughter. His life is good. Great, even. Right up until he hits an old Roma woman with his car, killing her. The local police soft-pedal the investigation – Halleck is one of them and the old woman was just a gypsy, so who cares – and the judge Halleck plays golf with decides there is no case to answer. That might be good enough for them, but the woman’s father decides to take justice into his own hands; he curses Halleck with one word. Thinner.
Halleck isn’t overly concerned at first. Losing weight without changing your diet or otherwise inconveniencing yourself in any way sounds a bit more like a blessing than a curse, doesn’t it? At least to begin with. Eventually Billy goes to the doctor, has many tests, and finds there is no medical answer for his weight loss. As the pounds continue to drop, Halleck gets scared and becomes convinced that the old man cursed him.
This book is an excellent example of body horror, the fear and utter betrayal that comes when our bodies are outwith our control. Billy Halleck is basically starving to death, despite eating thousands of calories every day, and there’s nothing he can do about it. There’s a lot going on in the book with blame and taking responsibility for your actions. How many people are really to blame for the woman’s death and the cover-up that occurred afterwards? Billy begins to hate his wife as she was distracting him at the time of the accident and she doesn’t appear to be suffering from any curse – but, ultimately, Billy was the person behind the wheel, the person who was capable of telling his wife to stop, but didn’t. When the old man lays his curse on Billy, is he taking revenge only for the death of his daughter? Or also for the decades of being mistreated, harassed, moved on, used by the ‘white man from town’? Does anyone really win a game of revenge?
Thinner is my personal favourite of the Bachman books. It’s a quick, compulsive read, pulling you through in Halleck’s wake, half envious of his easy weight loss and half terrified at the thought of that loss of control. That’s where so much good horror sits, in the place between what we want and what we’re scared of, when we’re reminded that the idea that we are in control of pretty much anything is an illusion. The events of just a few moments can change the course of a lifetime.
Next up we have Skeleton Crew, an enormous collection of short stories, which I’m very much looking forward to revisiting. Why not grab a copy and read along?