For years, a good friend of mine had been trying to get me to read Stephen King. "Trust me," she said. "You'll like him. Don't judge him by the films. They're not the same as the books." I remained reluctant, of course, because of my more literary tastes for one, plus the fact that I am not all into the Horror genre. Up until this year I had only read one Stephen King novel, "The Shining" and that was way back in 1981 when my Aunt had leant it to me. I did actually enjoy that book a lot, but over the years, I never really had the desire to read anything else from him. So I'm coming to him, a man who's sold over 350 million books, rather late. This year, I've read "Hearts in Atlantis", which I liked (although I thought he ruined the first story, "Low Men in Yellow Coats") but I did enjoy the rest of the book. It wasn't at all horror or supernatural, rather a rumination on the 1960s and how the Baby Boom generation is dealing with its legacy. Next, I read "Misery", which I really enjoyed, then his novella collection, "Different Seasons", where I only liked two of the four stories in it, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" and "The Body". "Apt Pupil" was simply horrible and "The Breathing Method" just didn't grab me.
Still, I find myself coming back to him for some reason, and I'm not really sure why. This time around it was "Thinner", which was originally written under his pseudonym "Richard Bachman". Nowadays these books are released under his own name. I thought I would give this one a try.
The first thing that struck me about this novel was how little King knows about Gypsy culture. (For an outstanding book on Gypsy culture, I highly recommend "Bury Me Standing" by Isabel Fonseca.) This was the main problem I found with the story. It seemed his depiction of the Gypsy clan in this book has it's reference point in old B-movies, where Gypsies travel around the countryside, performing for crowds, and putting curses on people. That's what happens in this book. The gist of it is that the protagonist winds up killing the leader of a Gypsy clan's daughter by striking her with his car while his wife was giving him a hand job. He gets off with a slap on the wrist and the girl's father, touches the man's face, placing a curse on him by saying the word "Thinner". Needless to say, little by little as the story progresses, the protagonist beings to waste away. The rest of the story is him trying to track down the Gypsy clan in order to have the curse removed. Throw in a Mafia friend and a little bit of a revenge and redemption story and you pretty much get the idea.
The writing itself isn't all that great. Pretty straightforward, commercial stuff, sometimes giving off an air that this could have been a made for TV movie. There were moments where I was rolling my eyes and smirking at some of the cliches riddled throughout the story. Yet for some reason, I felt compelled to finish it. I really did want to know how it all turned out. If there's one thing I've discovered so far about King's writing it's that you are reading them for the tale itself. King is a popular fiction writer. I don't come to him expecting the stylistic flourishes of say William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway. It is what it is and King is the type of writer he is, so I tried to remain open minded throughout. It's "Made for TV"-like feel was a bit of a turn off for me, plus the old B-Movie depiction of the Gypsies but it was a fun read. Not the worst novel I ever read but not even close to a great one either.
If you come to it looking for an entertaining story then I think you'll be all right with this. If you come looking for a classic of literature, then don't bother. All in all it's an entertaining commercial fiction book, a good read if you have a long flight or a long wait somewhere but that's about it. Of course, you can decide that for yourself.