Do you crave books that veer so far from “normal” that the reader must question absolutely everything that’s been told, including the characters’ identities? Search no further that Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a psychological thriller that begins so ordinarily only to leave you wondering whether a single statement can be trusted.
“Something that disorients, that unsettles what’s taken for granted, something that disturbs and disrupts reality–that’s scary.”
About the book: A young woman and her fairly new boyfriend, Jake, take a short road trip to the farm Jake grew up on. Before they even arrive, however, Jake’s girlfriend is thinking about ending the relationship. What should be a nice meal shared with Jake’s parents turns into a strange evening full of odd coincidences, confused conversations, and a chase through an empty school building late at night. Nothing is quite as it seems, but only the girlfriend seems to notice that anything is amiss. Before long, the reader will begin to wonder whether anyone will make it home from this trip at all.
“Questions are good. They’re better than answers. If you want to know more about life, how we work, how we progress, it’s questions that are important. That’s what pushes and stretches our intellect…Not knowing is human.”
Best aspect: there’s so much commentary, slightly philosophical in nature, about humanity in general. Whole paragraphs about what’s worth living for, whether loneliness is an acceptable condition, how people interact with others and the world; these statements begin as broad generalizations that many readers can likely relate to, but then morph into something a little more twisted that change the reader’s perspective on what is happening in the story. These little nuggets of “wisdom” seem not only to apply to various facets of life, but to the book itself. In the quotation above, the narrator is championing questions and uncertainty–qualities this book is filled to the brim with. Another example: in stating that thoughts are closer to truth than actions, the reader is guided to pay more attention to what’s inside the characters’ minds than the motions they make in the world. These relatable signposts keep the reader invested in the puzzle and offer clues at the same time.
Worst aspect: when the explanation finally arrives for all the oddities in this plot, it is so brief, and so strange, that much is still left to the imagination. The reader must inhabit the narrator’s mind and make his/her own assumptions about the narrator’s decisions on including certain details. This would be an aspect I could better appreciate if a little more space in the story was dedicated to it. From the slow, ordinary start to the novel (which helps make the uncanny coincidences more unsettling later on), to the gradual build in tension, the reader’s uncertainties about the story feel well-paced and necessary to the reading experience of I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The answers, however, are so compact and drive toward such a hasty end that the only way to truly grasp everything is to follow the narrator’s advice and start over from the beginning with the knowledge about the characters you’ve gained by the end. I love a book that makes me want to read it more than once–I’m a little less fond of books that force me into a second read.
“Both fictions and memories are recalled and retold. They’re both forms of stories. Stories are the way we learn. Stories are how we understand each other. But reality only happens once.”
One definite plus about my experience with this book, however, was that I picked the perfect time of year to read it. I didn’t add a lot of extremely creepy or scary books to my October TBR this year, but this one surprised me with its unnerving plot and shiver-inducing details. This short novel is fraught with eeriness, from mysterious men staring in through bedroom windows, to a dark, dank cellar lined with spooky paintings, to a secret inhabited closet in a locked and deserted school. Reality goes off its rails as one simple thought, “I’m thinking of ending things,” leads to its only possibly conclusion. This book is absolutely frightening not only because of the monsters outside, but the ones within.
“What if suffering doesn’t end with death? How can we know? What if it doesn’t get better? What if death isn’t an escape? What if maggots continue to feed and feed and feed and continue to be felt?”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I would’ve thought this book was perfect if it weren’t for the drastic difference in pacing between the opening and ending. The concept for this novel is particularly appealing to me, and I found the questions and answers equally disturbing and appealing. Halloween really is the perfect time of year for this book. Not only was I pleasantly uneasy while reading this book, but all those little philosophical snippets fed my curiosity about the meaning of life. I’m Thinking of Ending Things has the sort of depth that encourages multiple reads, and will reveal new vantages to the same questions every time. And it’s short, so those potential rereads aren’t daunting. I haven’t gone through it a second time yet, but I probably will at some point. If you like creepy puzzles, pick this one up.
- Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood is another psychological thriller with a creepy puzzle and surreal setting. These characters will also lead you to second guess everything you know about what’s happening in the novel, and the and the answers will surprise and tug at your heart. Read my complete review here.
- You may also like Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a truly frightening psychological thriller in which the narrator’s curiosity for truth will lead to dangerous places, even inside the self. This one’s perfect for this time of year.
Coming up Next: I’m reading Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first volume of a popular YA (though I’d consider it NA) fantasy series. There’s been lots of hype about this one’s sequel, but stay tuned to find out whether the first book about the faeries of Prythian and the mortal who may be able to save them all lives up to expectations.
The Literary Elephant