Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book Review: "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" by Iain Reid

Seriously, what the hell was this?

"I think what I want is for someone to know me. Really know me. Know me better than anyone else and maybe even me. Isn't that why we commit to another?"

In Iain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things (I'll admit I thought of ending my reading of this book more than a few times), an unnamed woman is on a road trip with her boyfriend, Jake. They've been dating six weeks, and she enjoys his intelligence, his sense of humor, his intensity, and the way he surprises her with simple gestures that show how much he cares, yet she's thinking of ending things with him. But since they're traveling to see his parents, she figures she'll wait and see how the trip goes before making any decisions.

As the drive progresses, the pair have a number of conversations, about the imperfection of memory, the importance of relationships, the value of faith, science, free will, and fear. Periodically the peace of the trip is interrupted by a persistent caller on the narrator's cell phone, but she refuses to answer those calls or discuss them with Jake, although he can clearly see she is agitated by them.

When they arrive at the farm where Jake was raised, the tenor of the visit starts to disturb her. She is left feeling ill-at-ease by Jake's parents, although they're doing their best to be pleasant; she is troubled by Jake's swift mood change as he interacts with his parents; and she sees and experiences a number of things that unsettle, even frighten her. She doesn't know what is going on or what she's supposed to do, but she does know she absolutely must end things with Jake when they return home. Then things utterly disintegrate on the trip home, beginning with an ill-advised stop at a Dairy Queen (in the midst of a snowstorm), and ending with an unexpected detour.

The story of the road trip is interspersed with flashbacks of the past six weeks since she met Jake, as well as snippets of a conversation between two people about a tragic incident.

I had no idea what to expect when reading this. Much of the hype I've seen talked about how terrifying and unsettling the book was, and I guess I agree with the latter part of that statement. To be honest, I am not sure I understand some of what happened in this book, and I guess I don't think any book should purposely be this obtuse. The story just kept getting weirder and weirder, and I couldn't discern what was actually happening and what was the work of an unreliable narrator.

There's no denying that Reid is a talented writer. He kept me wanting to find out what was going to happen even as I kept shaking my head and getting squeamish from time to time, and his use of language was extraordinary. The issues raised in the conversations during the trip were also fascinating and thought-provoking. But in the end, I found this unsettling and ultimately unsatisfying, partially because I think the book took a very strange turn, and partially because I just wasn't sure what I just read.

If you've read this and enjoyed it, we should talk!! I'd love to get someone else's take on this book, especially if you're among those who enjoyed it.

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