I’m thinking of ending things.
It's likely most of us have been in a relationship where we’ve had this exact thought. Maybe things aren’t going well, and haven’t for some time, and the relationship has run its course. Maybe things aren’t so bad, but they’re not exceptional either, and you wonder why you’re even making the effort. Maybe, like the main protagonist in I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, something just feels “off,” and while you can’t put your finger on exactly what, you just know it’s not right.
Steph and Jake met at trivia night. He was not the usual type of guy she’s attracted to, yet they seemed to hit it off. Jake is intensely intelligent and philosophical, if a little peculiar. Lately, she's been thinking of ending things, yet, Steph keeps finding little reasons to hold on, like the time when Jake brought her medicine for her headache, carefully wrapped in tissue. Now, they’ve been together for a month, and he is taking her on a road trip to the family farm to meet his mom and dad.
Steph hasn’t been sleeping well. She has been receiving mysterious phone calls from a person she identifies only as “The Caller,” who leaves the same cryptic voicemail each time. This has dredged up memories of the time she awoke as a child and saw a man staring at her through the window. She hasn’t confided in Jake about either of these things, and so there’s a certain tension in the air during their drive, as Jake’s car takes them further and further into isolated farmland.
Upon arriving at Jake’s parent’s farm, things take a decidedly hair-raising tone. Instead of taking Steph in immediately to meet his parents, Jake decides to show her the dark, hulking barn and the decrepit pig pit -- complete with slaughtered lambs and that ominous "this is not right" feeling. Meeting the parents is as awkward as you can imagine most first meetings are. The parents are overly-friendly, and despite their outward attempt at normalcy. When she takes a detour from the bathroom into the basement, Steph realizes that Jake's family has some secrets they'd rather keep hidden.
The creep factor ramps to an all-time high, however, when Jake and Steph leave for home. The sun has disappeared, darkness reigns, and the snow begins to fall. When a detour leaves Steph stranded, with Jake nowhere in sight and a sense of foreboding, she is forced to take refuge inside the local high school. This isn't Sweet Valley High, though. Once the doors close behind her, Steph may not make it out alive.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is a atmospheric, mind-muddling, spine-chilling tale. While the book is largely narrated from Steph's POV, some chapters are interspersed with snippets of conversation between unknown people discussing a horrific, bloody crime that occurred at a local high school, and how disturbed the seemingly bland perpetrator really must have been. With these snippets, you know they're discussing something that happened to or with Steph, but you only know just enough to make you curious to keep reading to find out exactly what happened, and how.
I love psychological thrillers, and was excited to have the opportunity to be an early reviewer of this book. The book blurb promises that you "will be scared," but "won't know why." This is only somewhat true. The first half of the book was rather boring, as Jake and Steph participate in philosophical conversations that alternate from mildly interesting to mind-numbing. The reader is unable to connect with the characters, and so s/he is left, instead, to find something else to care about.
The back cover synopsis sets the reader up for what should be a fast-paced, page-turning ordeal, but the opening is just too long. I almost put the book down a quarter of the way in. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster, where you have the slow inching to the top, and then a stomach-heaving drop to the bottom at break-neck speed.
I certainly admit to being tense and on-edge throughout large chunks of the story, though. I've watched enough horror and suspense movies, and read enough books, that I was able to clearly imagine the setting and get a feel for the different character personalities and quirks. At one point, I was home alone while reading this, as twilight was setting in, and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. I almost got a feeling there was someone in the house, so I quickly put the book down and got on to some chores. Whew!
However, with a quarter left in the book, I had a feeling I would not get the shocking ending I was anticipating, and for the most part, I was right. The whole time I was reading, I felt I was building up to finally learn exactly what happened to Steph and/or Jake. It's the reason I watch crime shows and documentaries: to discover what happened, how it happened, "who dunnit," and how were they found out - if at all? But then, the novel wandered off into psychological depths I apparently was not prepared for, or that I could not fully appreciate, and I lost the plot. I was left with more questions than answers, which was frustrating, and it caused my initially spooky feelings to sizzle and fizz out. There may have even been a sad trombone playing. I can't be sure.
Finally, a few plot points seemed unnecessary, because though they were included enough to make a point of it, they did not serve to further the plot other than to heighten the creep factor. Example 1: the man outside the girl’s window and the subsequent phone calls Steph receives over time. Example 2: the creepy Dairy Queen teens, one of whom is apparently a psychic. On their own, these scenes certainly heightened the suspense, but taken as a whole, they seem manufactured.
This is a perfect read for those who really enjoy psychological thrillers. I would not say that this is a "must buy" or "must read," but perhaps you'll pick it up from the library if you're in the mood for something... different.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things will be published on June 14, 2016. Thank you to Gallery/Scout Press for allowing me to read an advance reading copy in exchange for my honest review.