The Next Chapter

Iain Reid examines intimacy and isolation in his debut novel

Iain Reid, author of two memoirs, discusses the unsettling themes in his first novel, I'm Thinking of Ending Things.
After publishing two memoirs, Iain Reid explores the chilling side of intimacy in his harrowing debut novel. (Lucas Tingle/Simon & Schuster Canada)

Shelagh Rogers describes him as "the nicest guy ever," so how did Iain Reid come to write the dark and harrowing novel, I'm Thinking of Ending Things? The book is about a young woman driving out of town to meet her boyfriend's parents. As the title suggests, she's considering breaking up with him. Her doubts about their relationship foster feelings of guilt, confusion and fear — but perhaps not the kind of fear fans of traditional horror stories are used to. 


Both of my memoirs were about pleasant things in my life. The first was about moving back to my parents' farm and reflecting on their cheerful relationship, and the second was about a trip I took with my grandma, so that was nice and comforting. When I was going to write a new novel, I really wanted to do something that would be different, for both myself and the reader. I didn't want to feel like I was developing an aesthetic — that if I wrote another novel, I would be branded. I knew I wanted to write a novel... but I also knew fiction would be harder for me. After those first two memoirs, I felt ready to try writing a novel. 


Originally, when I was thinking of writing a dark and unsettling book, I had told my agent I was going to write a horror novel. But as I started to write it, I realized that it wasn't really horror. In most horror novels, the fear that we typically get is from physical threats — a serial killer or an attack. For me, those physical fears aren't as relevant. That's not what scares me. What scares me is more internal and metaphysical, like a relationship. How do we get to know people, and get to know ourselves within the context of a relationship? That kind of stuff can really rattle me, and I thought it could rattle the reader as well. Now, the reader who is scared by more traditional horror stories may not find this scary at all. 


I grew up on a farm outside of Ottawa, and it has a sense of isolation and solitude that you really can't get in a city. My farm isn't creepy at all — it's quiet, it's peaceful and it's one of my favourite places in the world — but I certainly drew on those feelings of isolation to create the environment in the book. It's winter and when you go out to do the chores, it's quiet and windy. It's easy to go three or four days without seeing anyone. The solitude can be quite pleasant and for most of my life, I was someone who encouraged people to seek it out. But there is a point when it becomes too much, and for me, a lot of this book is about the importance of relationships, the people in our lives and how easy it is to take them for granted. 

Iain Reid's comments have been edited and condensed.