I'm Thinking of Ending Things
First edition cover
|Genre||Psychological thriller, horror|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|June 14, 2016|
|LC Class||PR9199.4.R455 I6 2016|
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is the 2016 debut novel of Canadian writer Iain Reid. It was first published in June 2016 in the United States by Simon & Schuster. The book has been described as a psychological thriller and horror fiction, and is about a young woman who has many doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend but nevertheless takes a road trip with him to meet his parents.
The novel was selected by National Public Radio as one of the best books of 2016, was a finalist in the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award, and appeared on the 2017 Ottawa Independent Writers Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors longlist. In 2020 Netflix released a film adaptation of the book, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman and starring Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.
The story is narrated by Jake's girlfriend of only a few months. They met in a pub during a college trivia night, and Jake gave her his phone number by writing it on a piece of paper and slipping it into her bag. Several weeks later he takes her to meet his parents on their remote farm. She has been considering "ending things," but has not told him yet. It is a long drive and they engage in lengthy philosophical discussions.
The evening with Jake's parents turns out to be unpleasant and scary. They ask her awkward questions and she sees unsettling things, like a picture of Jake as a child that looks as if it could be her. During the long drive home, Jake decides to stop for "something sweet" at a Dairy Queen. The narrator is exhausted and wants to get home, but reluctantly agrees. She recognizes one of the girls that works at the Dairy Queen, but can't pinpoint why. After getting back on the road, Jake wants to dispose of the cups from their iced drinks at a nearby high school. It is snowing in the middle of the night, and the school is deserted. After disposing of the cups, he starts making out with her in the car in front of the school, but stops when he sees the janitor watching them from one of the windows. Furious, Jake leaves her alone in the car and enters the school building to confront him.
After a long wait in the cold car, Jake's girlfriend, scared and worried, goes looking for him. She searches the long corridors in the main building, then realizes she is being followed. Believing it to be the janitor, she tries to hide and quickly gets lost. Jake's girlfriend relives traumatic childhood experiences of a neighbor visiting her mother and threatening to take her away. She is terrified and wishes she had ended things with Jake. Then she remembers where the gym is, even though she has never been to this school before. She makes her way there, hoping to find a way out, but becomes confused as to who she is. She starts to physically deteriorate and is unable to see herself separate from Jake. After a while, she discovers that she and Jake are the same person. They make their way to the janitor's room and climb in the closet. Jake becomes the narrator and recalls how he wished he had given her his phone number that trivia night in the pub, but was too shy. He hoped to meet her again, but that never happened. So he wrote about her – he had to make it real. The janitor finds them in his room. He gives her a metal clothes hanger from the closet and says, "I'm thinking of ending things". She agrees, straightens the hanger out, and stabs herself in the neck with the sharp end. As she bleeds out, he says "A single unit, back to one. Me. Only me. Jake. Alone again."
Many of the chapters of the book are separated by a conversation between two strangers who discuss a horrific incident that occurred at the school. Near the end of the book, it is revealed they are talking about Jake. Jake was a student who dropped out of college 30 years ago and was employed at the school as a janitor. They talk about how he came from a farm, and that his parents had died long ago. They note how withdrawn and disturbed he became and that he used to spend much of his time on his own writing in notebooks. They discuss the discovery of his body and the notebooks, but it is only when they read them that they understand what happened.
Reid told interviewers it took him about three years to write the book, although ideas for the story had been with him for far longer. He drew on his experiences growing up on a farm in remote Ontario, and travelling Canadian country roads in total darkness. Reid said that he left the novel's ending open to interpretation, and that while he has his own explanation about what the ending means, other interpretations are all "totally valid". He added that he appreciates books that "put some of the onus onto me to decipher and complete the story".
In a review in the Chicago Tribune, Lloyd Sachs described I'm Thinking of Ending Things as "the boldest and most original literary thriller to appear in some time". He called Reid "a master of tension", and that despite the book's "philosophic weight", he "pulls it off". Sachs recommended re-reading the book, saying that "[w]ith its deep enigmas" and the "dense psychological space [the characters are] traveling through", it "remains as full of dark surprises as your friendly neighborhood black hole".
Hannah Pittard wrote in a review in The New York Times that she felt the novel's "bait-and-switch tactic"—interspacing the Jake-and-girlfriend narrative with a commentary between two strangers about an unspecified tragedy—too "gimmicky". She also felt that Reid's story was a little too non-diegetic, in that the narrator withholds too much from the reader. Pittard expressed her disappointment at the book's "big reveal" at the end, saying that it "hastily disposes of unexplained and unnecessary red herrings, and the revelation is at once too tidy and too convenient to be satisfying".
Writing in The Australian, author Pip Smith said the novel "reads like a short story with its elastic stretched to snapping point". She said that while it has all the ingredients of a good thriller with mounting tension and a twist at the end, Reid "sells his concept short" by sticking to the thriller format. Smith was critical of Reid's portrayal of Jake's girlfriend as having "inferior intelligence". She acknowledged that by the end of the book it becomes clear that the author was not trying to create "a believable female character, but ... a misanthropic male's fantasy of a female character". However, until the twist, readers "have spent 200 pages with a narrator who is structurally obliged to sound unintelligent". Smith felt that "Reid's novel is about being trapped – by intelligence, social awkwardness, a fantasy of what could have been ... – but his novel is also trapped by its own lure: a narrator too flimsy to feel real." She concluded that re-reading the book gives the text new meaning, but added that many people will only read it once, and will miss Reid's "provocations about predetermination and free will".
- Wertheimer, Linda (June 12, 2016). "In Debut Thriller Novel, Iain Reid Delivers Shivers Without Reader Knowing Why". NPR. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
- Oller, Jacob (January 25, 2018). "Charlie Kaufman adapting twisty horror tale I'm Thinking of Ending Things for Netflix". Syfy Wire. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
- "NPR's Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2016's Great Reads". NPR. December 6, 2016. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
- "2016 Shirley Jackson Awards Winners". Shirley Jackson Award. July 2017. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
- "2017 Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors". Ottawa Independent Writers. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
- N'Duka, Amanda (March 20, 2019). "Charlie Kaufman To Write And Direct Film Adaptation Of 'I'm Thinking Of Ending Things' For Netflix". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on January 25, 2018. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- Raup, Jordan (March 27, 2019). "Toni Collette, Jessie Buckley & David Thewlis Join Charlie Kaufman's 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things'". The Film Stage. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
- Nayman, Adam (December 5, 2016). "'Stop and See How Much Darkness There Is': An Interview with Iain Reid". Hazlitt. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
- de Roo, Brad (June 2016). "Iain Reid interviewed". Canadian Notes & Queries. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
- "Book Marks reviews of I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid". Book Marks. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
- Sachs, Lloyd (June 15, 2016). "No end to tension in Iain Reid's thriller". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
- Pittard, Hannah (September 2, 2016). "In a Novel's Mysterious Background, Talk of a Horrific Crime". The New York Times. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
- Smith, Pip (September 17, 2016). "Is it true that all good things must come to an end?". The Australian. p. 20. – via General OneFile (subscription required)