I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Author: Iain Reid
Release Date: 2016
“You will be scared, but you won’t know why.”
That’s the entire plot description on the back of “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” an Award winning debut novel by Iain Reid. The rest of the book jacket is covered with glowing reviews and endorsements. There’s also a picture of a car covered in snow on the cover, and the words “A novel” handwritten on the bottom corner. Obviously the author and publisher feel the less you know going into this book the more you will enjoy it. While I never read the back of a book before purchasing/reading, I decided to check this one out after finishing it to see how they advertised it to readers because it’s the sort of book that will infuriate plenty of them.
I’m going to spoil the end of the book later on in this review, so here are some discussion questions for the group for if you should continue reading on through the spoilers. In order or relevance:
1) Did you enjoy either of the following movies “Shutter Island” or “Identity?”
2) Do you enjoy playing games likes Resident Evil and wish you could read a recap of the one of the levels from the perspective of the playable character?
3) Does spending nearly half a book on a two hour car ride with an unnamed narrator and her know it all boyfriend sound like a deal breaker up front?
How did you answer? If you enjoyed those two movies, I think you’ll probably enjoy this book. When I saw each of those, I was like McKayla Maroney on the podium (for those in the future, that’s a meme joke from a few years back that equals “not impressed”). It wasn’t that the stories were bad or the execution was poor. The problem with both of them was when they were released. After years of movies with (similar) twist endings, as a viewer I was conditioned to predict/expect the twist. But I was then double conditioned to be disappointed that it was the same twist I predicted. Those two films weren’t exactly Titanic, so if you missed both of them hopefully you’ll get my larger point from the context they’re mentioned. If I mention the earlier films with twist endings that were more popular, I’d just be spoiling the book by analogy.
The Resident Evil question will probably leave even more people scratching their heads. For the non-gamers out there, there is a whole genre of video games that capitalize on the horror genre. In them, the protagonist wanders out around quiet and seemingly empty structures aware that at any moment their death can be around the corner in some gruesome manner. For one excruciatingly long stretch of this book it felt like I was stuck inside one of those levels and it ended up souring me overall on its enjoyment. Even as a fan of horror movies, reading about a character wandering the halls of an empty building for 25 pages never felt at all suspenseful.
For many reviewers, the long car ride up front kept them from ever enjoying this book. I ranked that question third, because as revealed in the discussion questions section at the end of the book it was author Iain Reid’s favorite part to write and I personally did not mind it. My main critique from it was that the development of the narrator felt inorganic through so many memories being brought up. As a reader I knew right away I was being manipulated by the author. Before I knew the reveal at the end, this section (and to a lesser extent the arrival at the farm) were both fine. There were some interesting philosophical discussions and some good use of language that kept the otherwise routine undertaking from feeling tedious.
If you’re this far in and you don’t want to know what happens, I’ll wrap this up by saying that overall this book did not work for me. The ending felt predictable, with way too much buildup for a twist that was not only foreseeable but also the only logical way to wrap things up once the unnamed narrator sees the pictures at Jake’s house. While the writing was enjoyable during conversations, it did not work succeed at creating suspense in what should have been a terrifying situation.
There is a subplot running through this book that never really goes anywhere. The narrator (whose name is not Steph, but could literally be anything else) is getting cryptic phone calls and mysterious voice mail from a male caller. She mentions that the caller ID states it is coming from her own phone number but she’s not sharing that with anybody. At that point I thought I saw a “Fight Club” twist coming on but hoped I’d be surprised by something else. (I didn’t mention “Fight Club” because everybody knows that twist, whereas if you’ve seen and remember “Identity” or “Shutter Island” you’ve been subjected to numerous similar twists and will see it coming). By the time the main character gets to the farm and sees a picture of herself, hears Jake do an exact impression of her, and experiences several continuity errors with the parents it’s obvious that she and Jake are one and the same.
Although that revelation is not confirmed until the final few pages, the entire sequence in the empty high school suffers as a result of that revelation hanging in the air. There is never any suspense that the narrator is in danger. The narrator directly stating “you can’t know how terrified I am because only somebody as alone in a situation like this would understand” only highlights how not terrified the reader is. Reid would be better served ignoring the twist ending unless it is more original than the one he employs here. Unfortunately the negatives in terms of predictability and lack of suspense outweigh the better scenes sprinkled throughout.
**Note – This is the second book I received as part of the Brilliant Books monthly Book subscription program. While I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I appreciate that it was a different genre from the first one and not a new release, so I have no idea what will be getting shipped to my house next.