Foe by Iain Reid

Foe comes across as an instant departure from Iain Reid’s debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The idea of venturing out into space is a far cry from the call of death. But perhaps they’re not as unrelated as you would think. 

Clues start to emerge that Junior isn’t necessarily who I thought he was from the beginning. His life seems unimportant in comparison to how he feels about Henrietta. The general tone of this book reminds me of an episode of ‘Black Mirror.’ There is something deeply unsettling about it. What does Hen know that Junior does not? Is Junior real? Is this another series that distorts reality? What is fiction and what is tangible? How does anyone know the difference?

However, the foundation of Foe is more philosophical than plot based. For a sci-fi story with plenty of dystopic elements, nothing really happened. Time passed slowly. Thankfully, the slowness felt intentional instead of boring. The basis of the book was more grounded in the impossible scientific feats and the development of Junior and Henrietta’s relationship than anything else. Even the plot twists were too predictable, especially considering they were given away in the back of the book. 

To be honest, it took me a couple of reads in order to formulate a cohesive train of thought about this book. Did I even like it? While it didn’t blow me away like I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Foe was still a powerful book. The dialogue was great, the storyline was interesting enough, and I really wanted the best for each and every character. I liked the fact that Reid kept many of the specifics slightly vague. It felt like this could happen to anyone, not just Henrietta and Junior. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to compare the two, but when I do I’m still left a little disappointed by Foe. It could’ve been more exciting. 

So all in all,  is it read-worth? It’s hard to tell. It’s predictable. It doesn’t explore new concepts or break new ground. The ideas feel familiar to me and are slightly reminiscent of other body-snatcher books. But the writing style is utterly unique. Each progression in the storyline starts off subtly and I like that. I personally enjoyed Foe both times I read it, but it could’ve been more than what it was. I wanted Reid to expand on it a little bit more. 

BACK OF THE BOOK (AMAZON.COM)

‘Reads like a house on fire’ – the extraordinary new novel by Iain Reid, the acclaimed author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things

You think you know everything about your life.

Long-married couple Junior and Henrietta live a quiet, solitary life on their farm, where they work at the local feed mill and raise chickens. Their lives are simple, straightforward, uncomplicated.

Until everything you think you know collapses.

Until the day a stranger arrives at their door with alarming news: Junior has been chosen to take an extraordinary journey, a journey across both time and distance, while Hen remains at home. Junior will be gone for years. But Hen won’t be left alone.

Who can you trust if you can’t even trust yourself?

As the time for his departure draws nearer, Junior finds himself questioning everything about his life – even whether it’s really his life at all.

 An eerily entrancing page-turner, Foe churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale. Perfect for fans of Humans, Westworld and Black Mirror, Foe is a book you will never forget.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid: Endless Questions

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it: I can’t seem to get I’m Thinking of Ending Things out of my mind. The depth of Jake the janitor’s loneliness is really getting to me. I can’t imagine living my life so isolated from everyone else. It sounds impossible. And now I’m thinking about it every time I look at another person. Are they all alone? What can I do to help them?

I also can’t stop thinking about the nonstop creation of illusion and fantasy throughout the book. Iain Reid really warps your perception of reality. It makes you wonder what is real. Is anything in life real? During one part of the book, I remember him discussing that memories are just stories. The only thing that is ever real is what you’re currently living. Each second is the only real thing you have. Everything else is a fantasy. 

Unsurprisingly, a book like this made me ask myself a lot of questions both about it and about my own life. I don’t have the answers to all of them, but I can *maybe* answer some of them… at least for myself. Of course this book is open to so many interpretations that each scene can be taken a million different ways. 

Back of the Book Description

Jake and his girlfriend are on a drive to visit his parents at their remote farm. After dinner at the family home, things begin to get worryingly strange. And when he leaves her stranded in a snowstorm at an abandoned high school later that night, what follows is a chilling exploration of psychological frailty and the limitations of reality.

Iain Reid’s intense, suspenseful debut novel will have readers’ nerves jangling. A series of tiny clues sprinkled through the relentlessly paced narrative culminate in a haunting twist on the final page.

Reminiscent of Michael Faber’s Under the Skin, Stephen King’s Misery and the novels of José Saramago, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an astonishing and highly original literary thriller that grabs you from the start—and never lets go.

Questions I Had While Reading I’m Thinking of Ending Things  (SPOILER ALERT)

  • What is the young woman thinking of ending? The title makes it sound like she wants to end her life. Her description makes it seem like she only wants to end her relationship with Jake. The in-between sections discuss suicide. Is the book covering multiple types of endings?
  • Why does the swing set look new? Why is it in the middle of nowhere? Why was this detail included?
  • Why does the caller keep calling the young woman? Why does the caller never speak when she answers? Why does the caller only leave cryptic voicemails?
  • Is it better to be alone or with someone?
  • Who is Jake’s brother? Is he real? Why does Jake feel the need to make up a brother? Does he blame his ‘brother’ for his failures in life?
  • Why do the farmers just leave the lambs where they are? Why did they not use the lambs for food?
  • Why does Reid include the maggot-filled pigs in his story? Why do they seem to have such a large impact on Jake?
  • Why are there scratches on the basement door?
  • Why does the girl in Dairy Queen feel scared for the young woman?
  • Who is Steph? Why does Jake say her name in the car while kissing the young woman? Why does she get a name and the young woman doesn’t?
  • Who is Ms. Veal? Why was she included in the story? Did she really poison the young woman’s mother?
  • Why does the janitor keep listening to ‘Hey, Good Lookin?,
  • Why is the young woman so scared of the janitor? Why does she feel like she has to fight him? Why does she think he is holding her captive?
  • Why did Jake choose such a brutal way to die? In the movie, he went outside and died of hypothermia. Why did he stab himself to death in the book?

What is the young woman thinking of ending? The title makes it sound like she wants to end her life. Her description makes it seem like she only wants to end her relationship with Jake. The in-between sections discuss suicide. Is the book covering multiple types of endings?

As we all find out in the end of the book, the young woman is just a figment of Jake the janitor’s imagination. She isn’t real in the same way that the rest of us are. But, in my opinion, she is real in a different, still important way. She is real to Jake. 

In his fantasy world, the young woman is simply thinking about ending her relationship with Jake. She doesn’t feel like they have good chemistry and, based on the book’s descriptions of their interactions, I would have to agree with her. Their relationship is awkward. It is almost always at odds with both of their personalities. 

I blame most of that awkwardness on Jake the janitor. He has a hard time imagining reasons why anyone would want to be with him. He cannot imagine a universe where someone would have loved him and remained in love with him. His fantasy world is a thought exercise meant to determine if he was always meant to spend his life alone and always meant to end his life by suicide. In the end, he and all of his fictitious characters agree that he should kill himself. 

Yet, I still think that I’m Thinking of Ending Things wasn’t just tackling the problem of suicide. I think in a lot of ways it covered the end of life in general. The first clue to this was in the extensive and horrible description of the end of the pigs life. It was dismal and gory and disgusting. They suffered for days before dying. The second clue was that Reid made it very apparent that Jake’s parents were getting closer to the end of their own lives. They were also both suffering from the ailments of old age. The conclusion the book seems to draw is that you will suffer until your life ends. It’s a somewhat horrible conclusion, but it seems extremely concrete when you look back at the book as a whole. It is bleak, but profound.

Why does the swing set look new? Why is it in the middle of nowhere? Why was this detail included?

When young Jake and the young woman are travelling to his parents’ farm, the young woman notices a brand new swing set next to a decrepit barn. She notices it in both the book and the movie. It is startlingly out of place and she comments on how it confuses her. What is the point in having a new swingset next to an old, abandoned building?

I’ll be honest with you, this detail still confuses me. It is such a small detail and yet it has enough meaning that it was included in both versions of this story. I also have differing takes on what it could *possibly* represent. 

On one hand, I think it might be the first clue that the young woman and Jake aren’t tangible. Their world isn’t real. They live in the fantasy world of a lonely old man’s decaying mind. The swing set is included as a sign that the real world and Jake’s fantasy are blurring together. Perhaps the barn had burned down ten years ago and since been replaced with a new building. Jake the janitor knows there is a new swing set there and includes it in his fictitious world without replacing the burnt down building. It adds an element of surrealism to the story, blurring the lines between the real and the unreal.

On the other hand, I think it might just be meant to add to the ever present dread of the story. The young woman is meant to come across as unsettled and confused. She is quite literally trapped inside the janitor’s mind. Everything is constantly changing and unusual. The first clue to this neverending anxiety and confusion is the oddly placed swing set. It is there just to add to her initial and ongoing sense of confusion. 

It’s really hard to say that either of those are the right interpretation in regards to the swingset. A nihilistic part of me always wants to insist that symbolism isn’t even real to begin with and everything in every book is meant to be taken literally. Of course, this book is absolutely littered with symbolism so that can’t be it. What do you think the swing represents? 

Why does the caller keep calling the young woman? Why does the caller never speak when she answers? Why does the caller only leave cryptic voicemails?

The caller scares the heck out of me, to be honest. Every time they call the young woman, I get a little bit nervous. It is deeply unsettling and terrifying to be constantly contacted by a person you can’t identify. Their cryptic messages come across as intimidating. It is obvious that whoever is calling is not mentally stable. Their message is as follows:

There’s only one question to resolve. I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. I’m not lucid. The assumptions are right. I can feel my fear growing. Now is the time for the answer. Just one question. One question to answer.

In the end, it ends up that the entire story was a figment of Jake’s imagination. The caller was his subconscious. What was the question he was struggling to answer? It was his endless debate as to whether he should commit suicide or not. 

However, I don’t really understand why the caller never said this to the young woman herself. The caller only left voicemails with this message and hung up whenever she actually answered. Perhaps part of Jake the janitor’s goal was to protect this specific persona (his fictitious girlfriend) from the more harmful sides of himself. He didn’t want to worry her. He felt some sort of tenderness for the section of the mind where she lived. I’m unsure. What do you think?

Is it better to be alone or with someone?

I’m Thinking of Ending Things very clearly presented the dangers of long term loneliness. Jake the janitor was plagued with mental instability. Many of the scenes depicted the damage being alone had done to his fragile mind. He is unable to socialize, hates himself, and cannot form healthy relationships. At the end of his life, he can barely communicate and spends more time in his fantasy world than in the real world. He’s unstable. 

But I think it also subtly presents the risks of being with someone else as well. The instability of relationships seem to be what Jake the janitor felt such a deep fear of. He was anxious in regards to how other people perceived him. Not knowing what was in their minds bothered him. And that’s a very real danger in relationships. You can never know the truth of another person. There will always be doubt. It’s hard to say it’s truly better to be with people than alone when you never know if they’re going to leave you. For people like Jake, the comfort of solitude, and the mental dangers presented with that, may be better than the risk of loving someone and losing them. 

Of course, for myself, I don’t necessarily want to be alone all the time. I would rather risk losing someone than never have them to begin with. Mankind is meant to be social. It’s written into us. Imagining going years without a real conversation sounds like a fate worse than death to me. I’m Thinking of Ending Things has a particular depth to it where it’s capable of making both fates sound scary. 

Who is Jake’s brother? Is he real? Why does Jake feel the need to make up a brother? Does he blame his ‘brother’ for his failures in life?

At the end of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, it’s disclosed that the young woman’s story is just a figment of Jake the janitor’s imagination. He is imagining the perspective of a possible romantic interest that he hadn’t taken the risk with when he was younger. He imagines her growing bored with him and breaking up with him. Similarly, he imagines a better version of himself (young Jake) and a fictitious brother that possesses all of his negative traits. 

When the young woman asks young Jake about his brother, his brother possesses all of the same problems that Jake the janitor has. He is deeply antisocial, had a failed academic career, and followed young Jake around. At times, he even pretended to be young Jake, stealing and wearing his clothes. It is revealed that all of these characters are in the mind of Jake the janitor. The young woman is what Jake the janitor wishes he could have had, young Jake is a more ideal version of the janitor, and the brother represents all of the negative parts of Jake the janitor’s life. He blames his fictitious brother for his own shortcomings. 

In my opinion, Jake the janitor creates all of these various personas because of the trauma of loneliness. Being separated from everyone else in the world has had a horrible impact on his mental state. Jake the janitor is deeply depressed and suffers from mental illness. He may even have multiple personality disorders. He has split himself into these three characters (the young woman, young Jake, and the brother) in order to protect his own fragile mind. 

Why do the farmers just leave the lambs where they are? Why did they not use the lambs for food?

Coming from a farming community, it came across as really odd to me that the mother and father didn’t eat the lambs. It didn’t seem like they died because of disease or anything during the movie and the book didn’t go into a lot of detail. Jake just said they would probably burn the bodies. Maybe the lambs were just supposed to add to the creepiness of the story, but that feels reductive for a book where all of the wheels in my mind seem to be turning all at once. Is there some deeper meaning? If so, I can’t really figure it out.

Why does Reid include the maggot-filled pigs in his story? Why do they seem to have such a large impact on Jake?

The death of the pigs seemed to have a huge impact on young Jake and Jake the janitor. They both seemed extremely perturbed by it. From what I can tell, I would assume that the horror of the pigs’ deaths is a memory from childhood. The fear of dying in such a sickening way seems deeply ingrained in Jake. He is disgusted by it. 

And, of course, they become more than a horrible memory and instead seem to be the biggest symbol for Jake’s take on life. He seems to think that everyone lives and dies the same way as the pigs do: they suffer, full of maggots and pain, until they die. He believes he is quite literally a pig infested with maggots. He is constantly asking himself when his maggots will leave him. When will he finally get to die?

Why are there scratches on the basement door?

The movie and the book both feature oddly placed scratches on the basement door. In the book, they come across as less intimidating. Jake explains them away as scratches from when his family had a dog. In the movie, they’re placed too high up to be from a dog. This makes me believe that they’re meant to be something else even in the written version of the story. So why are they there?

Once again, I think they might just be to add to the overall ominous vibe of the story. Reid wanted to avoid everything coming across as simply awkward instead of scary so he added creepy details to the farm house. It might be nothing more than that.

But it could be more. I have a couple of theories. One of them is that I think that spending too long in the basement would have clued the young woman in to the fact that her very existence is fictional. She isn’t real. The scratches on the door and young Jake trying to dissuade her from entering the basement could be Jake the janitor trying to prevent that part of himself from learning the truth. None of this is real. He has never had a romantic relationship. He doesn’t want this persona to know these things and, instead, wants to watch the scene unfolding in his mind without reality interfering. 

I also think that the truth behind the basement door could be far darker than that. As I’ve mentioned previously, Jake has a bleak outlook on life. He believes that everyone is a maggot-filled pig waiting to die, particularly himself. What I haven’t really gotten into yet is how stunted and fractured his relationship with his parents came across. In both adaptations, his conversations with them are awkward and stunted. He cares for them deeply, but they come across as judgemental and dismissive. Considering how his life played out, spending their last years with them, it can be inferred that their relationship may broach codependency.

If you combine that with the fact that I believe Jake suffers from mental illness and has problems forming healthy relationships or even interacting with people, I think he may have been abused on behalf of his parents. Trauma at a young age can have drastic consequences for the future of a child. Dissociative Identity Disorder fractures, such as the one he seems to be suffering from, often only happen at a young age. It can be assumed that the initial trauma he endured was in the basement. Perhaps that it is also why he fears the boiler room at the school. He could be warning the young woman to avoid the basement because he has a deeply rooted fear of what happens in that room. 

Why does the girl in Dairy Queen feel scared for the young woman?

When young Jake and the young woman are travelling back home from visiting his parents, they stop at a Dairy Queen to get some lemonade. In the movie, they stop as well for ice cream. In both adaptations, they encounter three young girls.  I believe all of the girls are meant to resemble young women the janitor sees while working at the school; that’s why they seem familiar to the young woman.  Two of them are giggling and pointing at Jake. They seem cruel and beautiful, but harmless. One girl, however, has darker hair and comes across as scared for the young woman. In both adaptations, she gives the young woman a cryptic warning to be careful.

In my opinion, the girl isn’t really nervous on behalf of the young woman. She’s scared for Jake. The real Jake. She’s warning him of the dangers of exploring his mind in this way. Perhaps she’s a part of his subconscious, trying to prevent him from commiting suicide. 

Who is Steph? Why does Jake say her name in the car while kissing the young woman? Why does she get a name and the young woman doesn’t?

Jake mentioning Steph in passing particularly confuses me. I can’t imagine him ever having experienced a romantic relationship with a woman so it’s hard for me to assume that she was a previous girlfriend in Jake’s real world. Perhaps she was, but it doesn’t sit right with me. He doesn’t come across as someone with any romantic experience. 

However, I do firmly believe that Steph is someone real from Jake’s life. Most of this feeling is due to the fact that, unlike the young woman, Steph is given a name. It could just be that he had a crush on someone named Steph and never did anything about it. 

Who is Ms. Veal? Why was she included in the story? Did she really poison the young woman’s mother?

The inclusion of Ms. Veal confuses me. Is she real or is she something Jake the janitor added to the young woman’s story to spice up his fantasy world? He was, after all, writing all of this down in a notebook. She could have just been an element to the story.

Or vice versa she was a real person that Jake the janitor interacted with during his lifetime. As I mentioned before, one of my theories I developed while reading this book is that Jake was abused at a young age. Perhaps instead of his parents being the abuser, Ms. Veal was. She had an ominous air about her. 

However, I don’t think she really poisoned anyone. That seems too far even for this book. In either theory, the perception of Ms. Veal was through the eyes of a child. Whether it was the young woman or the real Jake, they probably just thought that she poisoned their mother because of the coincidence of their mother getting sick after Ms. Veal’s visit. 

All in all, I think this is one of the more confusing details in the book. Ms. Veal is only mentioned for such a short period of time and only has negative traits. I don’t really understand her. I might read I’m Thinking of Ending Things again just to see if I can comprehend all of these small details. It seems like she is important. I just don’t understand how important. What do you think?

Why does the janitor keep listening to ‘Hey, Good Lookin?’

I don’t think that the song choice means anything in particular. I think listening to the same song on repeat was just another attempt on Jake’s part to drown out reality. I sometimes listen to the same song over and over again when I’m upset. It may just be one of his coping mechanisms. Of course, it may be something more than that. Maybe the lyrics have some deep meaning that I’m missing.

Why is the young woman so scared of the janitor? Why does she feel like she has to fight him? Why does she think he is holding her captive?

There is a very frantic energy to the end of I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Part of that is probably due to the fact that all of Jake the janitor’s various personas are colliding. He is forcing them into agreement that he should commit suicide. However, because of how real these various personas are, I think that the young woman’s fear is a very real thing. She is legitimately frightened and confused by everything going on. Jake has kept her mostly in the shadows about the reality of her situation. She feels like she has to fight him because she doesn’t understand that he is her. She feels like he is holding her captive because she is quite literally trapped in his mind. 

Why did Jake choose such a brutal way to die? In the movie, he went outside and died of hypothermia. Why did he stab himself to death in the book?

I really don’t know. The manner in which Jake committed suicide is horrible, even for suicide. However, there is some poetry that he left himself somewhere where he would be easy to find. Everyone would know that he killed himself. Perhaps his choice of location, at least, was due to the fact that he wanted people to interact with him in death if they could never do so during his life. It’s hard to understand why Jake the janitor did this in such a brutal way.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I’m Thinking of Ending Things does not want to be classified as a simple horror story. It is one. But it also isn’t. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a horror story, a romance novel, a psychological thriller, and a memoir all at the same time. It is an old man’s suicide note. Iain Reid’s debut novel is a powerful story about the trauma of loneliness, captivating readers from the first page on. 

And, yet, it isn’t perfect. Most scenes come across as dismal and depressing. The storyline is predominantly upsetting. I’m Thinking of Ending Things will not resonate with all readers for that reason. You have to be willing to be sad, and confused, and curious alongside the rest of the characters. You have to want to ask yourself hard questions about yourself, your family, and the world around you. 

Plus, some of the concepts are too specific to Jake’s situation to perfectly capture the situation of all people. Others are too broad and feel like they’re assigning personal blame to the reader. Why did we not help him? Why do we fail to see the pain in others? Have we ever isolated someone to the point that they end up like him? 

The main character’s verbose way of communicating can also come across as pretentious to some readers. Other readers may also find the author’s constant creation of illusions to be a bore. They occur nonstop and can make the book confusing to read. 

Personally, I believe that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a work of art. It isn’t meant to be enjoyed simply for what it is. Instead, you have to analyze and question everything you read. It isn’t a story so much as a puzzle. It will never make you feel safe or comfortable in your own life, but will instead force you to confront possibilities and problems that never occurred to you. Do we really care so little about each other? Are we all really alone? 

BACK OF THE BOOK (Amazon.com)

Jake and his girlfriend are on a drive to visit his parents at their remote farm. After dinner at the family home, things begin to get worryingly strange. And when he leaves her stranded in a snowstorm at an abandoned high school later that night, what follows is a chilling exploration of psychological frailty and the limitations of reality.

Iain Reid’s intense, suspenseful debut novel will have readers’ nerves jangling. A series of tiny clues sprinkled through the relentlessly paced narrative culminate in a haunting twist on the final page.

Reminiscent of Michael Faber’s Under the Skin, Stephen King’s Misery and the novels of José Saramago, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an astonishing and highly original literary thriller that grabs you from the start—and never lets go.

MY THOUGHTS (SPOILERS INCLUDED)

Let’s start from the very beginning of this book: the movie. It’s sad to say that I watched the movie first, but I did. I honestly didn’t even realize that the new Netflix original was based off of a book until after I had already watched it. I didn’t look into I’m Thinking of Ending Things at all until after I watched the movie.

But in a manner of speaking, I’m kind of glad I watched the movie first. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the book to the same degree if I hadn’t understood what was really going on prior. I found myself constantly looking for clues that could help me better comprehend the ending. Without that endless search, I’m not sure if I could have gotten over the depressing nature of this story and dug deeper into the value of the content. 

Would I have been able to enjoy the endless melodrama? Or would I have found it boring? I just don’t know. The book is so beautifully written it’s hard to imagine that I wouldn’t have been captivated by the end of the first page.

Similarly enough, the reviews I’ve read since then seem to be mixed. Some readers absolutely hate this book. They think it’s pretentious. It is slow. It is boring.  It is trying too hard to seem deep and it misses the entire point it’s trying to make. Others believe it is worth endless acclaim. I had the chance to fall into either category and, instead, sit somewhere in between.

I love the concept behind I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I love the writing style. I love the characters, and the creepiness, and the never ending hard to answer questions. I love the vagueness. But it’s all so overwhelmingly sad. How can I love despair? How can I love loneliness? How can I find Jake’s sad, horrible story to be utterly enchanting?

And how can I not fear the fact that I strongly relate to Jake? The janitor’s story has a piece of everyone in it. It is just a dramatized version of our own loneliness. He is completely unable to connect or relate to others, but we have all experienced that in our lives to some degree. Jake just experiences it to the highest possible degree. Loneliness defines everything about him, but calls attention to something real in everyone. Sometimes it feels impossible to connect to the people around you. Sometimes you will feel entirely alone. That is a natural part of life. Jake giving into it is what makes I’m Thinking of Ending Things so scary to me. The idea of giving into your worst moments terrifies me. 

However, that is probably one of the reasons why I don’t really mind the way that Jake communicates with the readers. Others think his big words and big ideas mean he is pretentious. I don’t think he is. I view Jake as empty. He has nothing. He has no one. He cannot find a reason to be alive. Jake uses big words to reinforce the fact that he is, at the very least, intelligent. His intelligence is the only real thing he has left. He may be all alone, but at least he is smart. He must be worth something because of his intelligence. He can’t be worth nothing at all. He tries to find meaning in his life throughout the entire book. Jake constantly asks himself if his life could have ever been worth living.

Plus, Jake’s intelligence is also meant to reinforce one of Reid’s main questions for the reader. Is it worth being smart if it makes you feel more alone? Intelligent individuals have a hard time making the same connections as less intelligent people. They aren’t usually as emotionally intelligent. Their skills lie elsewhere. Jake’s life may be so lonely and empty because he spent too long relying on his intelligence and avoided learning valuable social skills. He is awkward and stunted and anxious. He uses his intelligence to hide from the sad reality of his own life. It is a masquerade and a distraction.

And is it his intelligence that allows him to live in a dream world? I wonder how lake Jake has been imagining a different life for himself. While his imaginary world throughout I’m Thinking of Ending Things is riddled with sadness and despair, maybe he had once been able to imagine better lives for himself with healthy relationships, family, and a happy farm. Perhaps his imaginary relationships helped to prevent him from creating real ones. 

Assuredly, his fantasies do prevent him from interacting with the world around him now that he is older. Jake wasn’t fully present in the final years of his life. He barely spoke. He didn’t seem to take good care of himself. The side notes between chapters all seemed to be conversations about Jake following his suicide. Every single one mentioned how disconnected and lonely Jake seemed. The people around him thought he was creepy and weird. He paid more attention to what was in his head than what was in front of him. He was unable to converse even to small degrees. 

However, part of me did wonder if those side sections were real depictions of how Jake the janitor acted. It was disclosed at the very end of the book that much of the story was a departure from reality. Jake was imagining his life as it would have been if he had actually talked to a girl in a bar one night. Then, it was disclosed that this story was one he had written down in a notebook before killing himself. It was more than a dreamworld and had entered into the formal stage of being a story. What if those conversations were also imagined? It is hard to believe that people would be as cruel and dismissive towards Jake’s death as the people conversing were. What if their interactions were just how Jake imagined people reacting to his death? 

I wouldn’t be surprised, especially considering that most of his fictitious universe was tainted with hints towards his loneliness, his anxiety, and his overall lack of self esteem. Jake doesn’t value himself very much so it’s understandable that he doesn’t think others would value him either. Even his own imaginary girlfriend, a figure who developed into a separate persona for himself, doesn’t value him. She doesn’t love him. She wants to end their relationship. I could see his self hatred bleeding into his perception of how others perceive him. 

What’s interesting about his relationship with the young woman, however, is that she views Jake as an amazing conversationalist. Young Jake is wonderful to talk to and can discuss a wide variety of topics with ease. In reality, Jake the janitor is mute. He refuses to speak to the people around him. Perhaps this was just meant to indicate the depth of his internal dialogue, but it may just be that Jake was trying to develop the person he wishes he could have been. In his dream world, he was capable of talking to others. He has a separate persona as someone interesting and dynamic, someone worth speaking to. 

Rolling that idea around in my head, it seemed to seep into other sections of I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Jake seems to have developed a wide variety of separate personas. He views himself as both himself, the janitor, as well as his own imaginary girlfriend, young Jake, and a fictitious brother that he blames for his own short-comings in life. They all have unique characteristics that Jake the janitor assigns to them. They are all pieces of himself that have developed into something separate. 

In reality, Jake, the janitor, is unsociable. As mentioned prior, he doesn’t speak to others and spends far too much time alone. He seems to have an element of mystery to his life because few people know his background story. All they know is that he lives alone. He has no family. He makes people feel uncomfortable because they can’t figure out how to interact with him. Jake the janitor has few to no connections with the real world. He drowns out reality with loud music, books, and the creation of an imaginary world where life might be better. 

Jake’s persona as his own fictitious girlfriend is quite different from that. The young woman is slightly reserved, but is capable of navigating complicated social scenarios. Even when Jake’s parents make her feel uncomfortable, she can hold a conversation with them. She doesn’t have a very deep connection to Jake and, instead, views him as an outside figure. cial scenarios. She doesn’t have any deep connection to Jake and instead views him as an outsider. I’m Thinking of Ending Things often implies that she doesn’t completely understand Jake. Much of his behaviorism and attitudes are foreign to her. She may be somewhat intelligent, but not the extent that Jake is and not in a way that prevents her from connecting to the world around her. In a manner of speaking, she might be more of an ideal version of what Jake would like to be like than even young Jake is. She is what the janitor can’t imagine having in real life. 

However, her lack of understanding in regards to young Jake was surprising to me, particularly after watching the movie. The Netflix version of I’m Thinking of Ending Things often implies that she perfectly understands young Jake, and he perfectly understands her. They are unsettingly similar, even as her identity changes again and again. The connection isn’t made that they’re the same person until the very end. The book calls attention to their differences. They come across as completely separate identities with a strained connection to one another. Similarly to the movie, she has little chemistry with young Jake. 

In regards to young Jake, his personality is more erratic than the other two. In the beginning of the book, he comes across as calm and collected. The young woman often complains that their relationship is missing something. Later in the book, he acts out of anger and frustration more often than not. He is childlike and distances himself during dinner with his parents. He complains and acts out because of his dislike for the lemonade at Dairy Queen. When he sees the janitor watching the two of them, he is enraged. 

Young Jake’s personality seems to fluctuate with each page. He is all over the place and hard to pin down. Where the young woman sees one trait, I see dozens. It’s almost as if the janitor couldn’t fully picture himself as a fully realized, healthy adult with normal relationships. He didn’t know what he would look like as that type of person. So, instead, he creates young Jake who is

constantly changing. 

And that might make you think that it would be possible for young Jake to connect with the young woman at some point in the story, but it never does. They both change to varying degrees as the story progresses, but never in ways that compliment each other. The young woman and young Jake are always at odds with each other, possibly for the same reason of Jake the janitor being unable to imagine a healthy relationship between himself and someone else. 

This tension of young Jake versus the young woman only built as the story went on. An overall sense of anxiety built up with each page. In the movie I thought that all of this drama was nonsensical. It was just the young woman’s anxiety over meeting her boyfriend’s parents that caused everything to feel eerie and unsettling. It was a figment of her imagination, nothing more. There had been nothing to worry about. This story was a non-story. Of course, that’s not what the movie was about. The book never made me feel like that would be the ending.  

Throughout the book, the feeling of anxiety came across as more insidious. The anxiety was inside of her, a part of her. But it wasn’t only hers. It felt too foreign for that. It also belonged to the farm and the road trip and Jake and his parents. It bled into everyone. It defined everything. Of course, having watched the movie first, I knew that all of this was because it wasn’t just her anxiety. It was Jake the janitor’s anxiety spilling over into his narrative of a better life. He struggled to find traits that anyone would connect to in himself. He couldn’t find any reasons for another person to love him. He knew any attempt at a relationship would have ended in failure. He knew he would never be able to survive alone if he truly knew what being with another person was like. Jake the janitor’s debilitating social anxiety made everything seem anxious and nerve wracking. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things comes across as a thought experiment in loneliness for that reason. It is similar to the oroborus, the snake that eats itself. It will cycle on forever, feeding on itself. The more lonely you are, the more daunting relationships will seem to you. You don’t want to give someone too much power over yourself if you’ve spent so much time alone. If you give someone importance or sway over your heart, what will happen to you if they leave? Instead of risking losing someone, you just spend your entire life alone.

In a way, it comes across that loneliness is its own type of trauma. Jake the janitor seemed to have few to no traumatic experiences in his life. The event with the maggot-filled pigs seems to be his only traumatic memory he has and it has a large impact on his perception of self. He believes his life is filled with maggots, metaphorically obviously. It does not seem horrible enough to impede his ability to interact.

So why did he spend his entire life alone? Because the anxiety and nervousness regarding his social interactions caused him to separate himself from society. That in turn, led to loneliness and more apprehension about interacting with others. As the years went by, he became less and less likely to branch out. Similarly to the scene where he describes the candle he never burned for want of a better reason to burn it, Jake the janitor never had a reason to risk the dread of socializing. There was never a good enough reason. He could take care of himself just fine all alone. He didn’t need anyone else and didn’t want to risk caring about anyone else lest they leave him.

I feel like that concept played a role in many of the scenes throughout the book. Young Jake mentions previous relationships that held little importance with him. He was able to meet with ex-girlfriends because they didn’t matter to him. He assigned little value to other people so it wouldn’t bother him when he inevitably lost them. He didn’t want to even imagine the pain of losing someone let alone run the risk of actually having someone to lose. He didn’t want to risk loving someone.

Another scene that stands out is Jake’s refusal to have vaginal intercourse with the young woman. He uses his fingers instead. Is part of that due to janitor Jake’s inexperience with love? Did he never have a chance to be sexually intimate with a woman? Is that why he can’t even imagine it? After living for so long in a fantasy world, perhaps Jake the janitor thinks he won’t mind his lack of experience if he just ignores it. Similar to his refusal to imagine past loves, he may be unwilling to imagine a life where he had the chance to enjoy his own sexuality. Or perhaps he feels it would be invasive and cruel to imagine something he will never experience.

Curiously enough were the characters that felt more realistic. Young Jake and the young woman had an element of fiction to them. They were constantly changing illusions. Their character traits fluctuated. The young woman wasn’t even given a name. But other characters were more concrete. The mother and father, in particular, were well fleshed out. Jake the janitor seemed to be remembering exactly as they were. Many of his memories of them were negative. 

What made me curious about this entire book is that only one young woman was given a name and it was Steph. Who is she? Was she the only woman that Jake the janitor had ever allowed himself to care for? Did he eventually lose track of the fiction and let his reality blur the lines? I’ve been very curious to learn more about that slip up. It came across as a crack in his facade. Was that the reason why Jake lost it and felt like the janitor was watching him?

There is a remarkableness to the fact that scenes like that make little logical sense, but have such a powerful impact on the reader. Even as scenes make less and less sense, they become more emotionally powerful. Jake’s reaction and the name Steph hold little meaning to the reader, but have a strong impact on the story. They bring out real human emotion: anger, loss, pain. I find that to be particularly well done and well received. 

In part, I feel like the success of the emotions during I’m Thinking of Ending Things are due to its poetic nature. I’ve always thought of prose as telling a story and perhaps relaying some emotion throughout the story and poetry as describing an emotion and perhaps sometimes telling a story. For that reason, I almost believe that this book is more poem than prose. It goes beyond the plot to explore the heart of memory, loneliness, and Jake’s emotions.

Shockingly enough, Jake’s exploration of self ends with the realization that he should follow through with killing himself. He should go beyond thinking of ending things and actually do it. He has nothing to live for. All of his different personas agree that suicide is the best option for him. Jake the janitor will always be alone and was always destined to be alone. He was destined to commit suicide. His life was never going to be worth living – even if he had spoken to the woman in the bar that night. All of his personas agree that, no matter what, he would end up alone. 

How depressing is that? To feel that your life was predestined to be spent alone? To feel like living is meaningless? I’m Thinking of Ending Things presents the trauma of loneliness as something without hope. There is no means to recover from the suffering that is Jake’s life. It’s a very real and upsetting issue that real-world people face, not just people in works of fiction. Reid’s take on it is incredibly dismal and perhaps unrealistic. I don’t believe that people who have spent the majority of their life alone should be without hope. While socializing may be scary, it can save you. 

Of course, finding your reason to live sometimes feels impossible. Connecting with others can seem like a mountain you just can’t climb. People live lives as lonely and stagnant and tiring as Jake’s every day and we all just ignore it. At what point do we help others? Are we all really just passing judgement on them? I don’t personally think so. 

For this reason, many of the scenes throughout I’m Thinking of Ending Things really made my stomach turn. They were so desolate. Many of the characters were without any hope. Jake the janitor was obviously suffering from his overwhelming loneliness and suicidal ideation, but other characters were also suffering. The pigs and their maggots. The mother and her inability to hear. The father and his fear for the mother. The young woman and her apprehension towards ending things. The entire book is based on being creepy, suspenseful, and vague. 

That sense of creepiness and vagueness is furthered by the creation of Jake the janitor’s fourth persona, his brother. In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, young Jake describes his brother to the young woman. He is exactly like Jake the janitor. He refuses to socialize, had difficulty developing relationships which caused him to step away from his academic career, and even wore Jake’s clothes at times. He followed young Jake around for years, constantly watching him from the shadows. 

But, the entire time, Jake the janitor and the brother were the same person just as Jake the janitor is also the young woman and young Jake. Jake the janitor imagined a brother that he could pin all of his worldly problems on. It wasn’t him that suffered from debilitating social anxiety; it was his brother. It wasn’t him that ruined his academic career; it was his brother. Jake wasn’t troubled. He could pin any of his problems on his fictitious brother. 

I almost enjoyed the movie more for having left out the brother. It came across as superfluous to me. I already understood the extent of Jake’s insanity and depression. I didn’t need him to imagine a fictitious brother to explain away his personal issues. However, I do respect what the author was going for in separating the traits he would like to have (young Jake) from the traits he hates in himself (the brother.) It felt unnecessary and made Jake come across as more insane than depressed. 

All in all, I particularly enjoyed this book. It was beautifully written and I felt a strong sense of connection to all of Jake’s personas. However, I wouldn’t recommend I’m Thinking of Ending Things to all readers. It was hard to read at times and challenged my perception of other people. How many people suffer from debilitating loneliness? It was difficult to accept the fact that many of us feel alone most of the time. I’m still asking myself if we’re all really alone at the end of the day. While I would like to say no, this book made me doubt that.