First published back in November of 1984, Stephen King’s novel ‘Thinner’ was the last but one novel to be released using King’s reasonably short-lived pseudonym of Richard Bachman.  The original release of the book included a faux-photo of the supposed author, which was later revealed to be an insurance agent named Richard Manuel who was associated with the author’s agents.

DLS Synopsis:
William Halleck is clinically obese.  So much so that his doctor has warned him that he’s heading for a heart attack and then no doubt on to an early grave.  He needs to change his eating habits and general lifestyle dramatically if he wishes to see much more of his life.  That and avoid any undue stress.

However, the court case against him for hitting and killing a travelling gypsy whilst being given an impromptu handjob by his wife Heidi is proving to be a very unwanted strain on him.  But being a close personal friend of the preceding judge works wonders for Halleck’s case.  And soon enough, the case against the Connecticut lawyer is acquitted.

On leaving the court, Billy Halleck is confronted from out of the blue by an ancient old man.  With barely a word spoken between them, the frail old man strokes Billy’s cheek whilst whispering the word “Thinner” at him.  The curse is now set.  The death of the old man’s aged daughter will be avenged.  Time will see to that.

And so, slowly but surely, Halleck realises that he’s losing weight.  At first he’s overjoyed with the results.  Won’t his ever-pessimistic doctor be happy now!  But the pounds keep dropping off.  His weight plummeting as the days go by.

Meanwhile, the judge who swayed the court case in Halleck’s favour is developing a strange scale like rash across his body.  Furthermore, the town’s police chief who helped out with acquitting the case against Halleck is all of a sudden bursting out in the most horrendous case of acne.  As time goes by, their individual conditions continue to worsen, until life itself in intolerable.  Their final act is suicide.

Now Halleck knows what is happening to him.  He knows that the old gypsy father, Taduz Lemke, visited a curse upon him.  His time is slowly but surely running out.  His body weight is falling away too steadily.  He must find the gypsy band and somehow reverse the curse.  But time is now against him…

DLS Review:
It’s a relatively simple idea for the plot.  A gypsy curse that is slowly withering away our principal character.  But what King manages to do in the novel is weave in a wonderfully engaging and compelling character-rich storyline around the relatively simplistic framework of the tale.

The character of Billy Halleck is utterly (and purposefully) dislikeable from the outset.  In doing this, King has made our principal character less of a heroic protagonist fighting against all odds, and thrust the position of our lead character more into the role of the tale’s principal antagonist, receiving his just deserts.  Sympathy for the gypsies is fleeting, with much more dominance put on the prolonged downfall of Halleck.

Along with the rich characterisation, the novel relies heavily upon a constantly escalating tension that revolves around Halleck’s continually plummeting weight.  The initial first few days bring only the slightest results, but King keeps up the snowballing destruction of our lead character, allowing the tension to build and build until Halleck’s future is very bleak indeed.

There’s certainly a delightfully black comedy element to much of the tale.  King keeps the telling of the story colourful, with plenty of wit and jocular character interaction to keep the general mood reasonably light.  That is, until King starts to really crank up the ‘curse’ element.  At this stage comical joviality is replaced with much more forceful growing horror.

The novel draws to an eventual climax, with Halleck’s desperate attempts at reversing the curse finally drawing to an end.  Every page weighs heavy on the plot now.  Halleck’s life is barely hanging by a thread.  The accusations and doubt are no longer relevant.  There’s nowhere to run and nothing he seems to be able to do.  This final section of the tale is what really makes the novel.

For an all-round enjoyable read, you really can’t go wrong with ‘Thinner’.  Swapping light-hearted colourful storytelling with an escalating and inescapably oppressive horror, has in itself, produced an undeniably compelling read.  It’s gripping and entertaining, building towards a truly impactful finale.  It’s certainly one of King’s novels that you don’t want to miss out on.

The tale was later adapted by Michael McDowell into the film ‘Thinner’ (1996), which was directed by Tom Holland.

The novel runs for a total of 309 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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