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First edition cover
|November 19, 1984|
It would be the last novel which King released under the Richard Bachman pseudonym until the release of The Regulators in 1996, and the last released prior to Bachman being outed as being Stephen King's pseudonym.
The initial hardcover release of Thinner included a fake jacket photo of "Bachman". The photo is claimed to have been taken by Claudia Inez Bachman. The actual subject of the photo is Richard Manuel, the insurance agent of Kirby McCauley, who was King's literary agent.
Billy Halleck, an arrogant and morbidly obese lawyer in Connecticut, has recently fought an agonising court case in which he was charged with vehicular manslaughter. While he had been driving across town, his wife Heidi distracted him by masturbating him, causing him to run over an old woman who was part of a group of traveling Gypsies. The case is dismissed at a preliminary stage thanks to the judge, who is a close friend of his. However, as Billy leaves the courthouse, the old woman's even more elderly father, Taduz Lemke, strokes Billy's cheek and whispers one word to him: "Thinner." The word, and the old man's behavior, startle Billy.
Billy begins to lose weight at a steadily accelerating pace, and realizes that Lemke has cursed him. He also learns that the judge who gave the unfair verdict was also cursed by the old man, causing scales to grow on his skin. The town police chief who helped soft-pedal the charges against Billy is cursed with a horrifyingly extreme case of acne. Both men eventually commit suicide, the former by jumping out a window and the latter by shooting himself.
With the help of private detectives and Richie "The Hammer" Ginelli, a former client with ties to organized crime, an emaciated and desperate Billy tracks the Gypsy band north along the seacoast of New England to Maine. He confronts Lemke at their camp and tries to persuade him to lift the curse, but Lemke refuses to do so, insisting that justice must be done upon Billy. The Gypsies throw Billy out of their camp, but not before Lemke's great-granddaughter Gina shoots him through the hand with a ball bearing. Billy calls for help from Richie, who sends a mob doctor to treat Billy's hand and then arrives in person to terrorize the Gypsy camp.
After Richie finishes with the Gypsies, Lemke agrees to meet with Billy. Lemke has brought a strawberry pie with him and adds blood from Billy's wounded hand to it, saying that the curse can be transferred to someone else but not destroyed. The weight loss will stop for a short time and then resume unless another person eats the pie, which will strike him/her with the curse and allow Billy to regain his health. Lemke begs Billy to eat it himself and die with dignity, but Billy instead takes it home, finding Richie's severed hand in his car. Later, from a news report, he learns that Richie has been found shot to death with the word "pig" written in blood on his forehead.
Billy returns home and intends to give the pie to Heidi, whom he has come to blame for his predicament. The next morning, though, he finds that both she and the couple's daughter Linda have eaten from the pie. Realizing that both of them are now doomed, he cuts a slice for himself so that he can join them in death.
Thinner is partly based on an episode in Stephen King's own life. He weighed 236 pounds and was warned by his doctor that he needed to lose weight and stop smoking. Although he did in fact lose the weight, he was angered by the fact that the decision to lose weight wasn't really his own—it was a decision that he felt had been forced on him by his doctor. He began to contemplate what would happen if someone were to lose weight and then be unable to stop losing weight—and the idea for Thinner began to germinate in his mind.
- Thinner, the film based on the book