★★★★ out of ★★★★★
By Iain Reid
It’s been known throughout the human experience that the journey is far more rewarding than the end point. For mountain climbers the peak is only the halfway point. Few endeavors have one introspectively looking solely at the terminus. For horror fans the end often isn’t entirely satisfying and the nostalgia for a film (or book) lies in the way the spooks and chills unfold along the way. Iain Reid’s 2016 novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, is the pure embodiment of this sentiment.
Laid out as a first person narrative from the perspective of a young women who’s become conflicted with her evolving relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. Her ambivalence is on full display as she hems and haws her way through powerful conversations, general attraction, and a growing intra-personal innervation that Jake is just not the “one.”
Early on in the novel Reid punctuates many of their interactions with off putting phone calls, and what appear to be short morsels of police reports detail a grizzly and unexplained homicide. All the while Jake and his protagonist gal pal dissect the universe over the course rather interesting dialogues about the human condition, what it means to be in a relationship, and the ultimate test of any intimate relationship— when is a lie really a lie? The graduate level philosophical connection between our narrator and Jake is deep and satisfying and clips along at a believable and forthright manner. Yet, the entire time, lingering in the background is the idea that things could quickly becoming to a (horrifying) end.
Throughout, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Reid weaves a fascinating tapestry of uncomfortable and unpleasant happenings. Our protagonist continues to receive increasingly peculiar and odd phone calls and messages “There’s only one question to resolve. I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. I’m not lucid. The assumptions are right. I can feel my fear growning. Now is the time for the answer. Just one question. One question to answer.” Unfortunately for our narrator, the calls come in droves, sometimes 12 plus times in a given evening. Her nerves slowly start to fray but her internal intuition is put aside to deal with the emotional requirements of figuring out how to unravel her relationship entanglements.
Stalker caller, relationship in turmoil, internal conflict — what better time to visit Jake’s parents? Reid constructs a wonderful narrative that lives right on a tightrope of believably. The happenings are weird, but not too weird. The relationship is in turmoil, but not explosively so. The stalker call is worrisome, but not threatening. All these things taken together are problematic, but not so striking that that you’d be compelled to truck on over to 911. That is until they visit Jake’s parents. The events that unfold at Jake’s childhood home deftly go from awkard to dark, disturbing, and distressing.
The final act occurs at a industrialized high school with a grade-A psychopathic janitor. Think Michael Meyers with a dust rag and a push broom. The tension continues to ratchet up as clues are revealed and our narrator is forced to simultaneously deal with her mortality and the seemingly mundane prospect of breaking things off with her boyfriend Jake. A tortuous breakup happens, but it appears in a hastily constructed finale.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is full of scares, spooks, and internally focused thoughts that will have readers thinking twice about jumping on dating sites, or even the status of their own spiritless relationship. While the second and third acts are thoughtful and well constructed, the real scares come in the second act, making the third act a enjoyable, but insufficient construct. No matter the structural choices Reid makes, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a bizarre and wonderful read. Here’s hoping writing savant Charlie Kauffman and Netflix don’t drop the ball in bringing Reid’s words to life.
P.S. Netflix: Seriously, don’t screw this one up.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things: ISBN — 978-1501126925.