Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Short Con Week 17 - Quitters Inc.

"When a romantic tries to do a good thing and fails they give him a medal.  When a pragmatist succeeds, they wish him hell."

I've spoken of my love for King before.  He was the reason I devoured books at an early age.  Perhaps a bit too early considering an eight year old shouldn't be thumbing through a copy of Cujo.  But I've always loved his work, short stories especially.

Despite the fact that crime does in fact happen in King's novels, I've never considered him a crime writer.  Not sure if anyone does.  He's THE horror writer, the boogyman who makes us fear clowns, cars, hotels, and even junk shops.  So his inclusion in The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time certainly suprised me.

I'd read Quitters Inc. long ago, when it was included in one of my favorite collections, Night Shift.  As a young child with many smoking relatives, it stuck with me.  I don't remember if any of them ever tried to quit when I was young, but I was awfully tempted to have them read the short story, or even watch it's film counterpart in  Cat's Eye.  Perhaps if they could at least catch a glimpse of what some people were willing to do to quit, they might be inspired to do so, without the added stimuli of electric shock.

To summarize the story, Richard Morrison is a smoker.  After a chance meeting with an old colleague, he is given a card, "Quitters Inc." and told it will change his life.  He will quit smoking, guaranteed.    How do the folks at QI guarantee their success?  Simple, through threats and violence.  Smoke and they'll give your wife and child a few electrical shocks.  Continue to do so, the shocks will worsen, and there will be beatings.  Fail ten times, and there is a bullet waiting for you. 

As a crime story, it certainly works.  Quitters Inc's methods are taken right from the Mafia's handbook of keeping people in line.  Threats and Intimidation is Chapter One.  Violence, Chapter Two.  You get the point.  The fact that it's principles were twisted for, well I won't say as a legitimate enterprise, an anti-smoking company is genius.  If you've ever been around anyone trying to quit, you might have been tempted to do the same. 

However, I'm not sure the book belongs in a "greatest mysteries" anthology.  What is the mystery?  If anything, QI's main man Vic Donatti spells it all out for you.  Smoke and we mess you and your family up.

"We may audit you every other month," Donatti said.  "Or every other day.  Or constantly for one week two years from now.  The point is, you won't know.  If you smoke, you'll be gambling with loaded dice.  Are they watching?  Are they picking up my wife or sending a man after my son right now?  Beautiful, isn't it?  and if you do sneak a smoke, it'll taste awful.  It will taste like your son's blood."

Pretty effective salesmanship if you ask me.  And for those of you worried about the after quitting weight gain, don't worry.  They have solutions for that as well.

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