Richard Bachman is the pseudonym of Stephen King (if you didn’t already know) and his alter ego has produced some standout books such as Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man, Thinner, The Regulators and Blaze – all of which were well received, but when word got out and fans began to notice the fabulous mind behind these works could be that of King – these small burning titles quite literally blew up!
It is a shame that the pseudonym of King got out into the world, because it would have been great to have seen if Richard Bachman could have challenged King in the realm of Horror writing – Bachman (although King) could have quite easily have become King’s nemesis. Just think of the challenge that would have awaited both writers as they tried to better the others achievements – because lets face it the man needs some competition – he has had the horror genre by the balls since the 70’s and moved it to wherever he wanted it to go laying down a benchmark that he continues to widen for other writers to follow.
I wanted to take a journey back to some of King’s work as Bachman and had fond memories of staring at this books cover on my dads bookcase when I was little – the cover image used to scare the crap out of me (I was six at the time). My dad used to have every King book and the majority of these were in hardback and first editions some even signed (my mother used to get him them for Christmas and birthday presents). I remember thumbing through the books, taking them off the shelves and staring at the covers – Thinner is one that lodged itself deep in there and so with a bit of nostalgia I decided to take that journey and read it (the book to the right is the copy my dad had).
I wanted to read my fathers copy and when I spoke to him about it he told me that a few years ago he’d got rid of all his books. Yeah thats right. You heard me correctly. He just gave all his first edition hardbacks of King’s work to the charity shop…did he not realise that I was a bibliophile, that I work for a literature magazine, that I am a huge fan of King’s work? It cut deep….and I gave some thought of whether my dad actually loved me at all. I have now forgiven him for such a crime, but it has taken a very long time for me to not wish a curse on him for his stupidity!
But anyway I digress – the reason you are here is to read a review of Richard Bachman’s Thinner – so I guess I better get started!
Thinner tells the story of Billy Halleck, a gargantuan tub of lard, who apart from being morbidly obese is happy with his lot, he enjoys life, his wife, his job, his family. But all of that changes one night when receiving a blow job from his wife whilst driving, losing concentration and whilst surrendering to the bliss of his wife’s touch cant react in time as a Gypsy woman walks out in front of his car and kills her.
The courts clear Billy of any unlawful action – he failed to mention that he was getting some light relief when the incident took place, the courts, the police and the judge look favourably on Billy, brushing this whole sorry affair under the carpet. Billy leaves court cleared of the murder of this woman and it is here that he has a chance encounter with Tadzu Lempke the leader of the Gypsy community that has set up residence in their town – Billy is expecting retribution, vengeance, anger, a possible physical assault but all that happens is that Lempke touches him on the cheek and simply utters the words Thinner…
Thinner actually made me not want to eat, reading some of the depictions of Billy scoffing his face actually made me feel quite ill. It got worse as his weight-loss intensified, his trips to the scales showing that although he’s eaten his own weight in fried chicken he’s still losing weight, so he sets about trying to up his intake of food to compensate. The way Bachman (King) writes this is enough to make the ardent food loving person have an aversion to food!
As Billy begins to get thinner due to the Gypsy curse, he starts to investigate what is happening to him, hospital appointments, tests and other strange things occur, it’s then that Billy starts to wonder, if he’s been cursed then surely there must be others, those that turned a blind eye to his mistake. It is here that the book for me takes on another burst of energy as Billy begins to track down the judge and the head of the police to see if they too have been cursed. His discoveries are disturbing and grotesque and very much in keeping with King’s brilliance – the veil of his Pseudonym precariously slipping as you see glimpses of it in Bachman’s work. The book I believe serves as a warning, a warning for all of us…to do the right thing when no one is watching.
I do have to say that towards the end of the book when we are introduced to Richie Ginelli (an old friend of Billy) the books frenetic pace seemed to stop a little and what was a sprint became a bit of a crawl. This isn’t to say that this section was not enjoyable, because it was and there are a good few set pieces that are well explored and delivered…but for me the addition of this character and the subsequent chapters which solely focus on his exploits were not as free flowing as all that went before. Having said this, the ending of the book just blows you out of the water and you’re left thinking Ginelli who?
The ending of Thinner showcases the authors brilliance, all roads lead to home, but what is Billy bringing with him, is there a happy ending for this tale of woe and despair – Bachman leaves it up to you, the reader, to decide the outcome – masterfully putting the conclusion to this harrowing tale well and truly in the hands of the reader.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
Thinner is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available here.
Stephen King / Richard Bachman
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His first crime thriller featuring Bill Hodges, MR MERCEDES, won the Edgar Award for best novel and was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award. Both MR MERCEDES and END OF WATCH received the Goodreads Choice Award for the Best Mystery and Thriller of 2014 and 2016 respectively.
King co-wrote the bestselling novel Sleeping Beauties with his son Owen King, and many of King’s books have been turned into celebrated films and television series including The Shawshank Redemption, Gerald’s Game and It.
King was the recipient of America’s prestigious 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American Letters. In 2007 he also won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives with his wife Tabitha King in Maine.
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