Iain Reid’s 2016 novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things presents itself as a philosophical bowl of soup. At times, I found myself wondering, “What the hell is going on?” At other times, I felt sad, incomplete and left with a feeling that my life is insignificant. Reid is a Canadian writer and the author of two memoirs as well as his debut novel, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” His second novel Foe was published in 2018. Recently, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” received a film adaptation from famous director Charlie Kaufman.
In the novel, an unnamed woman is going to visit her boyfriend Jake’s parents for the first time. They go on a road trip together and during the trip, we see what this woman likes about Jake, his intelligence, his conversational skills and his trivia skills. They talk about various topics such as memory, importance of relationships, faith, how to analyze two sides of an argument, the things that intellects enjoy talking about. However, through the whole journey, she keeps saying to herself, “I’m thinking of ending things,” presumably referring to her relationship, but more on that later in the review.
Throughout the duration of the road trip, the deep intellectual or even existential conversations are interrupted by phone calls on the narrator’s cell phone, and each time the phone rings, she refuses to answer, even though Jake notices that she is bothered by the calls.
When they arrive at the farm, something doesn’t feel right. The narrator gets a tour around the farm house by Jake. During this tour, Jake goes on one of his usual rants about various topics that do not seem to make any sense at the moment, however, his dialogue is filled with metaphor. This is where the book excels.
They end up going inside for a fever dream of a dinner and house tour, as well as meeting Jake’s parents. Through the whole interaction, the narrator receives several phone calls again but refuses to answer. She starts to feel uncomfortable and experiences some unexplained events inside of the house. She doesn’t know how to feel, but one thing is for certain, she has to leave and when she gets back home, she has to end things with Jake. The novel takes a horrific turn from there as the couple takes an unplanned stop at a Dairy Queen (in the middle of a snowstorm), and a detour that ultimately leads to the answer of the book; what the hell is going on?
Reid excels in many ways through this novel. The question driven dialogue is mind boggling, almost to the point where I found myself putting the book in my lap and contemplating life. Reid explores various topics in unconventional ways. Isolation is the main one that stuck with me. As Jake explains, “There’s something about modernity and what we value now. Is there a general lack of compassions? Of interest in others? In connections? It’s all related. How are we supposed to achieve a feeling of significance and purpose without feeling a link to something bigger than our own lives? The more I think about it, the more it seems happiness and fulfillment rely on the presence of others, even just one other. The same way sadness requires happiness, and vice versa. Alone is…” The writing is simple, but in a way, introspective and complex. Reid leaves the reader hanging, yearning for more, without fully answering the question, and that’s the point. It aggravated me, to say the least, but he never wants to answer the question for you, but rather contemplate them as that is what makes us human.
Allegory and metaphor are the root of the novel, and it is pretty explicitly said. “Allegory …. elaborate metaphor. We don’t just understand or recognize significance and validity through experience. We accept, reject, and discern through symbols. These are important to our understanding of life, our understanding of existence and what has value, what’s worthwhile…”
Going off of this, the novel can be deduced down to one metaphor that Jake explains while showing the narrator his barn, where the pigs used to live. I’m warning you, this is kind of gross, so if you are squeamish, well, I just wouldn’t read the book! “He found his belly swarming with maggots. Thousands of them. It looked like its entire underside was covered in moving rice … Both pigs were literally being eaten alive. From the inside out. And you’d never really know if you just looked at them from afar. From a distance, they seemed content, relaxed. Up close, it was a different story. I told you: life isn’t always pleasant.’” Given what Jake said about metaphors and given the ending of the novel it is clear to see that this is a metaphor for mental illness; how for some people it eats them from the inside out and you would not even realize it until you got up close. This is where the title of the novel becomes a whole metaphor in and of itself.
There is no doubting that Reid is a talented writer. I’m Thinking of Ending Things syntactically is an easy book to digest, with its simple sentence structure and dialogue driven story. On the contrary, the ideas brought up in the conversations might make one have some heart burn and make them want to throw up everything they know about relationships, life and ideas and flush it down the toilet.
I highly recommend this novel to readers that enjoy experimental novels as well as a dabble in the suspense. Some might consider this a horror novel, but for me it is more tame than a horror novel. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is one of the best novels I have read all year and I would not be surprised if it finishes on top, or on my top three for the year.
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