Horror is one of my favourite genres, and when you talk about horror in fiction, you can’t go by without thinking of Stephen King. In a career spanning decades and dozens of best selling novels that sent chills down our spines such as It and Pet Sematary, King is… well, king of horror novels.
I recently bought one of his older books, written under the pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’, called ‘Thinner’, which was published in 1984. It even had a film adaptation, although I have yet to watch it.
Thinner centers around a well-to-do lawyer, William ‘Billy’ Halleck, who has a bank account and a career as generous as his gut. He lives the perfect life – beautiful wife, loving daughter, rich friends and comfortable lifestyle. All that changes when he is charged in court for knocking down an old gypsy woman and killing her, because his wife was giving him a handjob in the car. Thanks to ‘connections’ to a judge friend and the biased attitude of the police in dealing with the victims (the gypsies), Halleck slips off the hook. But not before old Taduz Lemke, father to the dead gypsy woman, lays a powerful curse on Halleck. He touches his cheek and simply whispers one word: ‘Thinner’.
Spooked but initially not thinking much of it, Halleck is merely relieved the whole episode is over. He goes on with his life… only to discover that he has been steadily losing weight. At first, it was a welcome change – he was a fat unhealthy person and shedding a few pounds was great, right? But then the drop doesn’t stop, and Halleck starts to worry that it might be something more sinister after treatments at the local clinic fail to diagnose anything wrong with him. His fears are confirmed when he realises his judge friend and local chief of police (who failed to do a fair and accurate investigation of the case) are suffering from weird ailments as well.
The next part of the story involves Halleck’s desperate race against time to locate the gypsies and get the old man to reverse the curse, before he withers down to nothing.With the help of his friend Richard Ginelli, a former client and mafia figure, they plan to make the gypsy remove the curse, or else…
TBH, Halleck is not a very likeable character. He is weak-willed, refuses to take blame for his actions, and vengeful. The saying ‘Misery loves company’ applies to Halleck, because he comes to hate his wife whom he blames for his predicament.
King does write Halleck in such a way that readers are still intrigued to find out what his fate would be – whether he receives punishment or gets away scot-free. I actually found myself sympathising with the supposed ‘antagonist’, Taduz Lemke, and his travelling family of gypsies.
Here King touches on the theme of discrimination, and what we see as ‘good’ and ‘normal’. The ‘good’ folk and upstanding citizens of each suburban town treat the gypsies like dirt, always ready to blame them for any misfortunes. Despite that, they take what they can from the gypsies in the form of fortunes, entertainment, etc. before unceremoniously kicking them out from town once they got tired of them. Society paints them as thieves, liars, bad men and women, who deserve to be in their place because they were, simply, gypsies.
The entire basis of the novel revolves around revenge and how it will eat us (ha!) from the inside out if we fail to find forgiveness in our hearts. ‘Revenge is sweet’…. but it also comes at a steep price, so to speak. The most terrible thing about it is that it often hurts the ones we love the most. Even unto the end of the novel, Halleck fails to acknowledge the fact that he made a mistake and that it cost the life of a woman. But if you wanna know if he is going to suffer from it, read the novel. 😛
Overall, I’d say ‘Thinner’ is a staple Stephen King novel: full of suspense and thrills. But it is also one of my more favourite novels, because his protagonist is kind of a prick and I found myself rooting for the ‘baddie’ instead. It is also one of his novels which have a deeper message instead of just scaring us shitless – on how society views people they deem of ‘lower standing’, and how, as I mentioned above, revenge brings nothing but hurt on ourselves.