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I'm Thinking of Ending Things: 09/26/17
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid is a strange horror road narrative. For it's length, it's really more of a novella, than a novel, but the mental journey it takes the reader on, makes up for its lack of pages or points of interest.
If you don't want spoilers, stop now. The short version is I thoroughly enjoyed this psychological horror set as a road narrative. If you're curious to learn more and don't mind spoilers (or have already read the book), continue.
It's a type of story I feel like I've read before. It's the type of story that is familiar enough to sit at the outer reaches of memory. I swear I've read this story before — and I'm going to guess it's a false memory cobbled together from details of Elizabeth Hand's novels and short stories I've read.
The book opens at an emotional crossroads. The narrator, a woman, is on a road trip of undisclosed length, to meet her boyfriend's parents. They're planning to have dinner but she is regretting the decision to agree to go because she's "thinking of ending things." Though it's written in a context to imply she wants to break up with him, it also brings to mind suicide.
If the sentiment is one of self destruction, then one can see this road narrative as another version of the crossing the cornfield / specifically the crossing into the underworld. It's a journey along a road not taken (or at least rarely taken) to an old farm well past it's prime (as evidenced by the frozen lambs and the gruesome story of the pigs who had to be put down because they were being eaten alive by flies and maggots).
The girl friend, though, is an unreliable narrator — her mind constantly wandering away from her current situation. She is fixated on a person she has named "The Caller." She says the first time she saw him was as a child when she woke up to see him watching her sleep from outside her bedroom window. More recently he has begun to call her cell phone, leaving messages that to her make no sense, but sound like an existential crisis or a suicide note.
The narrator doesn't record much in the way of the drive. They've already started the drive when she starts her story. Where they started from is unstated — except for it being implied that it is a city. Where they are headed is unstated except for it being Jake's parents' home for dinner. The time of day isn't stated except that it's night. Besides the farm house, the only other places mentioned are a DairyQueen and a high school.
As the road isn't really the point to this road narrative (in the same way that the Winchesters travel often by night with only the flashing of lights along Baby's windows), the journey instead must be mapped by the characters and their relationship to the road narratives.
Taking the character types and their relationship to the road narrative genres, one can extrapolate a route. From the reoccurrence of the couple (both in the form of the narrator and Jake, and Jake's parents) and the inclusion of the brief asides between chapters, we are given a circular route. It is fundamentally a "there and back again" story, but it's not a return trip. Instead, it's a circular path — especially for Jake.
Though Jake believes until nearly the end, that he is traveling with his girl friend, he is from the very beginning, traveling alone. He is, per Kate Milford (Greenglass House) an orphan and a wielder of orphan magic. It's magic that can either help the traveler cleave together or it can cleave apart the hero and the world around him. In this case, without the narrator, it's the latter. Jake's existence is dependent on her existence. Without her, he cannot be.