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Foe: 11/06/18


Goodreads counts Foe by Iain Reid as a horror novel. I count it as science fiction and a Canadian road narrative. Junior and Henrietta (Hen) live together in an old farm house on the edge of a giant corporate canola farm. They have a quiet life of routine until Terrance arrives with news of a space lottery.

Although this is Canadian fiction, the immense canola fields are more in keeping with the American cornfield motif. A cornfield brings to mind scarecrows and Foe certainly has one. But it also has a minotaur, which is unusual for the road narrative (but not impossible).

The entire novel hinges on Terrance's story that Junior has been picked via a lottery to go into space for a period of time. Hen, who is to stay behind, will be kept company by a company provided stand-in, made to look, sound, and act like Junior.

But here's the thing. Reid knows how to use language to its full advantage. While his narrators are delightfully unreliable, the punctuation helps the reader see what the narrator isn't telling.

Let's look first at the title. Goodreads lists it as Foe, meaning "an enemy or opponent" (Apple dictionary). But look at the cover art. It says FOE. It's an acronym for "family on Earth."

To the observant reader, it is obvious from page one that the switch has already been made. Junior, our Junior, isn't who he thinks he is. Junior is already in space and Terrance is there to make sure he's running to specs.

Junior who works for the canola farm and is there to keep Hen sane is a literal and figurative scarecrow. He is from page one.

So that turns the story to Hen. It becomes clear over time that she feels trapped by her situation. The farm and the need to pretend that scarecrow Junior is actual Junior has left her feeling trapped. The safe routine she used to love is now her prison; Hen is a metaphorical minotaur.

Put all together, Foe in the road narrative spectrum is a scarecrow / minotaur - rural - labyrinth. Why a labyrinth instead of a cornfield? For the same reason as first season of Westworld, namely, the artificial mind as labyrinth. Junior, until he is told, is unaware that he is the replacement / stand-in. He is not self aware enough to think himself out of his programming.

Five stars

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