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Monday, March 21, 2016


Mr. Bachman, come in. It's been a while.

If you're a Constant Reader, you know (kinda) why Stephen King occasionally became Richard Bachman. He only had three novels to his name, and the first had been a major hit so of course the two follow-ups had been as well, and critics were eager to point out that King's popularity had nothing to do with his talent, which, as far as they were concerned, was negligible.

Instead, they insisted, as the author of a big hit, his next few novels will also be big hits until his name stops being a selling point all on its own. Then he will be seen as the flash in the pan he actually is. You know, kinda like how Stephenie Meyer is viewed today.

King wanted to know if this was true. What if he released something under a different name, with as little fanfare as possible, and just let people discover it? Would it garner the same sort of response his mainstream releases got?

Other reasons for inventing the Bachman persona (and at this point, I think "persona" is the right word. "Pseudonym" just doesn't do what King created here justice) was that it gave him a chance to release some of his earlier material, some of which was written prior to Carrie, and also because his publisher, at the time anyway, would not allow more than one book a year to be published by the same author.

Results were hard to nail down. On the one hand, Bachman's novels did not sell nearly as well, but the lack of promotion could have had a lot to do with that. Also, critics were much kinder to Bachman, even describing his first novel, Rage thusly: "It's like something Stephen King would write, if Stephen King could write." Joke's on them, I guess.

But Thinner is different. All the previous Bachman books were the works of a young King, still finding his voice and sampling various genres. In other words, they didn't really read like Stephen King novels. Thinner is a novel written by the man who had, at that point, given us The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Different Seasons and Pet Sematary. This was the master at work again.

But King thought the experiment had not yet yielded conclusive results, so, he began work on Thinner, planning from the get-go to make this one a Bachman book. This means this was the first Bachman book intended to be one, despite the fact that really, honestly, the disguise at this point was paper thin. It doesn't surprise me at all that King was unmasked shortly after this book was published. Heck, he even name-checks himself in this book, having a character describe what's happening to him as being "like something out of a Stephen King novel." He might as well have winked at the audience, and it doesn't help that Thinner, unlike pretty much anything Bachman wrote up until now, can safely be classified as a horror story. Not a very scary one, but a gripping one, where the fear is derived from what our protagonist's body goes through.

The story focuses on Billy Halleck, a lawyer who has been blessed with a comfortable marriage, a loving daughter and a successful career. He's also a good fifty pounds overweight, and getting bigger. His doctor warns him that he is verging into heart-attack territory.

Now, I'm just gonna break in here and state that this is one of the things I'd like to see changed for the film. Billy is described as being 37 years old, six foot two and 247 lbs. That's...not heart attack territory. At all. I figured Billy had to be pretty short and slight of frame until the line about him being 6'2" came up. I'm 6'2" myself and over 300 lbs. I don't want to say just how much over, but let's just say I'm bigger than Billy. I've had my heart and blood pressure checked numerous times. They're both completely normal, and for that matter, when I had gas pains in my chest recently I went to the doctor to make sure everything was okay with my heart. I was told that not only was my heart completely healthy, but the fact that I was only 38 meant that I was extremely unlikely to have a heart attack, despite my weight. Is this just another example of King's seeming issues with fat people rearing its head again?

Well, apparently not. Apparently they were based on King's actual experiences. He weighed a bit less than Billy but was a heavy smoker, and was told he was entering "heart-attack country". Of course, what he leaves out is that in addition to being a bit overweight and smoking heavily, he was also a big-time substance abuser and alcoholic. That just might have had something to do with his doctor's warning.

Billy is a very good lawyer, though, and at this point even has mob connections, having successfully defended a low-level mobster named Richard Ginelli, who apparently has done that thing where a mafia man decides his lawyer is "part of the family now" because he treats Billy like a brother. But recently Billy himself has had legal trouble that is kicked off by the arrival of a traveling caravan of gypsies.

Now, here's another sticky point: I simply don't know if traveling gypsies are still a thing. Most Romany peoples of this day and age have more or less modernized and joined society. The gypsies in this story might wear rock star t-shirts and travel in campers and cars rather than with horses and wagons, but still, they're practically like something out of some old story.

Because it's the 80's (though this would be easy to modernize, gypsies or no gypsies), local police chief Duncan Hopley tells them to get on out of town. But before they can, Billy ends up running one of them over with his car.

It's not entirely his fault. First, his wife Heidi had decided to give him a handjob while he drove, which she had never done before, and thus he was distracted, plus the old woman didn't use the crosswalk or look where she was going when she darted out in front of him. But Billy is respected by the law enforcement community, and so Hopley doesn't even check to see if he'd been drinking while the judge, a buddy of Billy's named Cary Rossington, finds the fault to be entirely the old woman's and lets Billy off without even a slap on the wrist.

But the old woman's father, a 108-year-old Romany shaman, gets his own revenge, touching Billy on the cheek outside the courthouse and whispering one word: thinner. Before too long, Billy notices he's losing weight despite no changes to his diet or lifestyle. Even worse, he can't gain weight no matter how much he eats, and he's losing it fast enough to scare his wife, daughter, doctor and himself. Quickly the smiles and congratulations turn into worried looks and admonitions to see a doctor. When Billy realizes that he actually has been cursed to evidently lose weight until he dies, his wife and doctor decide he's crazy and try to have him committed. Only his mob buddy, Ginelli, believes him enough to help.

At first, I wasn't sure I was gonna do a post on this one because there already is a film version of this story, and while I haven't seen it, what I know about it tells me that it's pretty faithful to the novel, adding in only some marital infidelity and changing the ending a bit. It bombed at the box-office and critics were not kind, saying that it was all high concept and no pay-off and that there wasn't a single likeable character in it. I'm not sure I agree with either assessment, at least of the book, as I found Billy pretty likeable, even as I understood his flaws, and I liked Ginelli, too, as a sort of anti-hero, plus the pay-off was pretty intense, at least I thought.

So sure, let's try again. David Fincher can take the reigns this time, and maybe Ehren Kruger can handle story duties. And now for a cast.

For Billy, I hunted around for emaciated actors, or at the very least actors thin enough they wouldn't have to do much to look deathly gaunt. I figure the best way to do it is film the fat-suit scenes first, let the actor sweat and lose muscle and start to look unhealthily thin, and then finally have him pull a Christian-Bale-in-The Machinist and go scary gaunt. Make-up can help with that too, making his eyes look sunken and his ribs and collar-bones stand out, etc. I even figured Bale himself would play the part well, but then I figured he likely wouldn't be in a hurry to get scary-thin again, so it would have to be someone who could do it but hadn't yet. Eventually I settled on Eddie Redmayne. Now, Eddie's about three years too young, and looks younger, but Billy isn't tied to his age. Even his daughter, written to be a teenager thanks to Billy and Heidi marrying early, can be re-written as nine or ten and not one thing would be lost (there's even a scene where she asks for an explanation of the gypsies as he's saying good-night to her, and she really seems quite young in this scene). For that matter, this just means that for the next decade or so, Redmayne can still be used as he won't have aged out of the role yet. Plus, the fat suit will add years.
Richard Ginelli was harder to cast than I thought he would be. Joe Mantegna played him the first time out, and might be young enough to still pull it off, but I don't like having the same actor play the same role in a remake. It never sits well with me. I'm even against JK Simmons playing J. Jonah Jameson again for the new Sony/MCU Spider-Man film. But who else could play him? I tossed out name after name (Steve Buscemi, Michael Imperioli) before settling on Bobby Cannavale. This guy just screams small-time mobster and once I'd settled on him, he became Ginelli very naturally in my head. It's the kind of role he could play in his sleep.
Billy's wife Heidi was harder because she's a pretty generic character. She also gets shunted to the sidelines midway through, so a big name is not required here, but I picked a relatively well-known actress. I figured Laura Prepon was believable as the wife of an overweight man. She's a bit older than Eddie Redmayne, but not unbelievably so. I won't be casting Linda, their daughter, as in this version she'll be a pre-teen.
Early in the story, Billy goes to his friends on the legal side of things, hoping they can help. He finds they've been cursed as well. Judge Cary Rossington is never actually in a scene, but he'll have to be in the film. He's not described, so I picked a not-too-famous middle-aged man, Mark Moses.
Rossington's wife, Leda, is present, telling Billy what's happened to her husband (he's growing scales), and I didn't realize it until I saw her face, but I pictured her looking like Frances Fisher.
Police Chief Duncan Hopley is another role that will be bigger on film as much of what his character does is described to us rather than shown. His one scene has him covered with boils and sores, so it doesn't really matter who's under there, but I figured in the scenes before he's cursed, he'll have to look like a credible cop. So I picked a middle-aged Irish character actor who's played a lot of cop roles, Shea Wigham.
Doctor Michael Houston, Billy's physician who at first thinks his weight loss is a psychosomatic response to his guilty feelings, and later feels that he's gone crazy, doesn't get much description besides being handsome enough to make Billy jealous. In the film version he has an all-out affair with Billy's wife while trying to get Billy committed, but that's an invention of the film. A pretty believable one, but still, just an intention. Not sure it's needed here. He's also a coke-head, revealed in a far-from-believable scene where he just openly snorts coke in front of Billy while giving him his report on Billy's health. That scene would have to be changed so that he toots up before talking to Billy, but Billy notices the paraphernalia or something. I pictured Michael Trucco in the role.
Now for the gypsies. To start off with, I'll mention that not all these actors will be actual Romanies. This is because most Romany actors don't look Romany at all. Did you know Jennifer Aniston is of Romany descent? Yeah, look it up some time, you'll see what I mean.

For Taduz Lemke, the old man who curses Billy, I settled on Wes Studi, who I am now grateful I didn't use for Firestarter. Studi is a scary-looking man, and looks much older than his 69 years. This part will fit him like a glove.
His great-granddaughter Gina is a psychotic little firecracker who uses her sharpshooter abilities for more than just her slingshot act. She's described as being incredibly sexy but very dangerous. I went through a number of darker-skinned actresses before settling on Janina Gavankar.
Her brother, Samuel, is the troup's juggler, a young handsome man who's fiercely devoted to his family. He doesn't really have much character, but he's present and central for all the action at their camp. I chose Luke Pasqualino to play him.
My last role, if you'll permit me, isn't really a character in the book, but when I found him while searching for Romany actors, I had to include him. Not only is he really of Romany heritage, and looks it, he's also perfect for a traveling circus. Every circus needs its strong man, right? And he could be used as one of the enforcers who confront Billy when he gets to their camp. You could even split up the roles of Samuel and this guy. I decided he'd be named Trey Heilig, after one of the minor Gypsy characters. The actor in question is Dave Bautista. Couldn't you just hear him growling "white man from town!"?
And now I again beg your indulgence, because I'm about to start another long novel. Today I finished reading Dolan's Cadillac because I wanted to know before making this post if I would be making one for that story. I don't think I will, though. It's weird; there was a film version of this in the works for years, with Sylvester Stallone and Kevin Bacon attached to star, and when it was finally ready to roll, both men had backed out and instead we got...Christian Slater and Wes Bentley. I understand that it's one of the worst King adaptations to ever exist. I wondered if we needed another film to do the story justice, but really, it's a pretty standard revenge tale that's neatly told but not all that compelling. I'm not sure a film version is necessary.

Instead, I'm moving on to the next big novel, which I've been waiting a long time to get to, and I know I'll be doing a post on it. Yes. on it.

Next up: It!


  1. I'm glad you decided to give this one a go. I agree with you that the characters are far more likable than the reviews indicated, at least until very late in the story. I failed to think of anyone of roughly the right age to play Billy except for Bale, who seems to be the king of beefing up then wasting away. Between The Fighter, The Machinist, and Rescue Dawn, and the Dark Knight trilogy, he could do it with his eyes closed. I'm not sold on Redmayne. As good as he was as Stephen Hawking, he also has a constant smug look that makes me want to pimp-slap him into next week. I really like the idea of Fincher directing. Whoever does it needs to beware the fat suit. I never saw the 1996 film, but the attorney has a Klump-level fat suit on that looks ridiculous. If anything, I'd be tempted to make Billy older and give it to Val Kilmer and see if he's got anything left in the tank. For that matter, if we're not going to make age of central importance (which it's not, as long as it's someone who could still be considered in the prime of life), it would be interesting to see what someone like Aaron Eckhart could do with the role.

    You're also right that 6-2 and 250 is not heart attack territory for someone in their late thirties. I'm 6-4 and have pushed up to around 270, and while I'm under no illusions that's a good weight for me, I don't think people look at me and think "orca".

    Gypsies definitely still travel, or at least they still did, in large numbers, 16 years ago when I was in Europe. I doubt that in that time they've abandoned thousands of years of nomadic existence. I don't know where in the U.S. they're heavily concentrated, but I'm pretty confident that it's not here in the Rockies. I had no idea that Jennifer Aniston or Dave Bautista had Romany blood.

    On to the rest of the cast: strong yes to Cannavale (although I pictured Ginnelli as older), strong yes to Studi, and good ideas on actors I don't know to Gina, the judge's wife, and the doctor. Big thumbs-up to expanding the role of the juggler, which I thought was a character that potentially could have been interesting. For Chief Hopley, though, I very strongly visualized Chris Cooper. Part of that is that I'm a fan, and it feels like we haven't seen much of him lately (I'm aware that he's in the 11.22.63, though).

    And that's about it. I guess I better get moving fast on It. I'm only about a quarter of the way through, which still gives me almost a 300-page head start, but you've been pretty unpredictable in how slowly or quickly you get to some of these.

    1. I apologize for how sporadic I have been. The Talisman post took longer than it should have to go up because this time through I kept losing patience with it. I kept looking for excuses to not read, that that's my fault. What isn't my fault is the fact that job hunting is probably a more involved process than actually having a job. My commute is gone (thus cutting out an hour plus of guaranteed reading time I once had) as is my lunch break (another guaranteed hour I used to have. I should have finished Thinner in three days. It took five.

      I will try very hard to get It read quicker than The Talisman. I definitely enjoy the book more and I think I'm already making better time with it than with The Talisman, so that's promising.

      I'm not sure about Redmayne's smugness. To me his face usually says "aw, shucks" more than "I'm a punchable smug douche". I'm thinking back to when I first saw him in anything (Pillars of the Earth and Black Plague) and his Oscar acceptance speech where he seemed genuinely humbled to have won. That said, Bale would be an excellent Billy as well.

      Weight is such a tough thing to write about, especially with the assumption that everyone's body type is roughly the same, as far as how they carry the weight, how strong their heart is, etc. My heart is apparently a regular Ironman while I've known others carrying nowhere near the weight I do who have heart issues. Also I have a large frame and build, and even at 330 I look overweight but, like you, I don't think people are looking at me wondering how I'm still alive.

      Ginelli's age is never specified, but I figured for him to do what he does in this story, he'd need to be pretty fit. This is what caused me to reject Pacino and De Niro, who are just too old. I also considered Michael Imperioli and would have considered Stanley Tucci if I hadn't already used him. But he's more "Mafia accountant" than he is "Mafia hitman."

      The reason I didn't cast a well-known actor as Hopley is because he really has only one big scene and the actor will be covered in make-up for it. I had initially considered David Morse. Cooper didn't occur to me, but I do want to use him at some point.

    2. I hoped you wouldn't read my last sentence as criticism. I understand perfectly what it's like to be searching for work and worried about your next paycheck. Any time a post shows up is gravy, honestly. I'm not in a hurry for you to get to It, because as good as it is, I have a family who needs my time and a business to run.

      Also, let me reiterate, I like Cannavale. I think the reason I pictured him as older is that he seems to be kind of a legend in his own time, and a pretty well-known commodity, albeit of the unsavory kind. The years are advancing on all of us, and it sometimes occurs to me that there are people my age, even from my high school, who have already made a pile of money and who are very well established in their fields. And Cannavale is almost a decade older than me, so he's a perfectly solid choice. The trouble is in my thinking of myself as a young man. Which I am, relatively speaking, but If I were a professional athlete, I'd be nearing twilight, if not already retired. Pacino and De Niro are quite obviously old, but 50 and even 55 doesn't seem as old as it used to. Did Thinner describe anything about Ginelli's size? You're right that he would need to be fit enough to do some pretty physical stuff, but I always picture mob bosses as a little heavy from a lifetime of pasta and booze. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I was probably trying to think of an actor who looks like Fat Tony from The Simpsons.

      Interesting about Redmayne. He may be a perfectly likable guy. I think the first thing I saw him in was My Week With Marilyn, where I think he starts to think he's hot shit. His Oscar reaction seemed a little exaggerated, but I have no solid information to base my perception of his douchiness on.

      Anyway, I'd like to say I'll be done with It by the end of the month, but I still have 700+ pages left, so you do what you've gotta do, and I'll be around when you get around to writing again.

    3. I knew you weren't being critical, sorry it sounded like that. I'm just not happy with myself that my reading rate has slowed like it has. I'd much prefer to still be able to burn through the books like I was.

      You might be farther along in It than I am, though this one's going quicker because I'm so familiar with it. This will be my third, possibly fourth time through this one, and there have been many abortive attempts where I got partway through and stopped. Reading this time through feels like slipping back into an old, comfortable pair of shoes for the first time in years.

      Boy do I know about the age thing. In fact, in my It post I plan to talk about it a bit more. It's so weird when you re-read a book you read as a kid and then again as an adult.

      This last time through Pet Sematary, I remembered what I had pictured Louis Creed looking like when I first read it as a child. Louis is only about 35 or so. My memory of what I'd made him look like, he was anywhere from 45-50. I apparently thought 35 sounded OLD.

  2. I could have SWORN I left a comment on this one, but I must've not.

    Redmayne is a phenomenal choice for the role for any number of reasons. That dude is great. As for the method of his appearance, I bet we're not too far away -- if at all -- from being able to use mo-cap to do this sort of thing. I'd hate to see it be done as shitty makeup, and the makeup would almost certainly be shitty.

    Cannavale is a great pick, too, although I wonder if he's not a little bit TOO good. As in, would he overwhelm everything else? He might. (Have you watched any of "Vinyl"? Pretty good show, but not -- yet -- as great as I'd hoped.)

    I have no problems with any of the other picks, so I won't comment on most of them. However, Mark Moses is a GREAT pick, as is Wes Studi (although you'd be in for a certain amount of accusations of thinking all brown people look like any sort of brown person if you didn't cast an actual Romany actor).

    1. I'm usually the kind of guy who says let's use practical effects whenever we can, and only use CGI on certain things. That said, some CGI/mocap has been done incredibly well (Gollum, for example) and some practical effects just can't compete. If Weta did it, I'd say cool, mo-cap all around, both for super-fat Billy and skeletal Billy.

      I haven't seen Vinyl yet (I actually don't have cable; I NetFlix everything), but Cannavale has it in him to tone it down. He didn't walk away with Ant-Man, but this is a much showier role.

      As for Studi, you're likely right about the accusations, but as we now live in a perpetually aggrieved society, I'm starting to take all that with a grain of salt.

    2. It's almost worth making decisions like that to purposefully annoy people. Because they -- and I should probably say "we" -- are just SO easy to piss off. And in any case, I'm all for Wes Studi being in things.