“I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.”
The portentous foreshadowing from these very first sentences spoken by the unnamed protagonist of the titular novel by Ian Reid seeks to prepare you for the psychological nightmare that lies ahead.
Yet it does not.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a tightly-woven tale of cerebral horror that you can finish in one sitting. The premise sounds simple – Jake and his girlfriend (who is the narrator of the novel) take a trip in a snowstorm to an isolated farm where Jake’s parents live. You know, like to mingle and get acquainted – as is the tradition when you have to take the next step in your relationship.
But despite coming across as a genial couple, the girlfriend keeps pondering over to break things off with Jake and go her own way. Then there are allusions to a mysterious caller who could be a stalker – but the calls are coming from her own phone! Moreover, when they reach Jake’s parents’ house, she sees a picture of Jake as a kid and thinks it is actually her. At this point, you start wondering if she is off her meds, suffers from delusional distress, or maybe there are far more sinister underpinnings to all this?
The books paints a very vivid picture of dread and unease, with the locations themselves accentuating the tensions – the desolate, icy road, the forbidding environment at Jake’s house, as well as the weird and creepy behaviour of his parents. Add to it the abstract, uncomfortable dialogues she has with Jake, who is a scientist with a disposition for long, philosophical monologues. Nothing seems totally normal and you stay on the edge throughout the reading, wondering when the heightened disquiet will explode into more literal manifestations of horror.
The narrative jumps from one disconcerting situation to another at a quick pace. After Jake makes a detour into an empty high school to confront a voyeuristic janitor and his girlfriend decides to follow him shortly, this is where things turn to a pure horror frenzy, akin to what you witness in slasher movies. With near-blind panic at every step and turn, Jake’s girlfriend frantically explores one room after the other to hide from unseen evil, while she tries to find her boyfriend and contemplate her life choices. The style of writing suffocates you into a corner (like our protagonist) as you experience a sense of claustrophobic terror.
Another puzzling factor in the book is the brief, interstitial chapters of a group of people discussing a crime. While the details are vague, you get the sense that this must be somehow connected to the ordeal of the couple. Reid smartly reveals only the bare minimum to leave you scratching your heads and make a loose connection to the main story, as you move along to see what lies ahead.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things serves up a terse, Hitchcockian plot and sacrifices character exposition to create an unnerving, spine-chilling experience with a shocker of an ending that will make you revisit the book at least a couple more times.
Verdict – 4/5 stars