I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2016)

Published on 4 August 2023 at 00:08

I'm writing this book review at midnight on a random Thursday, as I'm struck with a particular streak of creativity that needs an outlet. Some of you might be more familiar with I'm Thinking of Ending Things from Netflix, although the story originated from the 2016 novel by Iain Reid. There was even a trend on TikTok for a brief amount of time where people would get "under the influence" and watch the movie, as the experience was more surreal. While I am not familiar with the movie adaptation, the book has made it evident I should be adding the movie version to my list of films to watch.

It's hard to do this book justice without getting into all the gory details, as the jaw-dropping resolution to the story deserves to unfold with the reader blind and hopelessly clueless. This book isn't to be read: it's to be experienced. The diction, dialogue, pace of build, characters... it all pieces together independently, as any facet of this story being lackluster would have dramatically altered my takeaway. This isn't one of those books where you're able to oversee weak plots when the world building is that good, or maybe one of the characters is a little too much like you that you can't help but resonate, even with cheesy dialogue. You need all elements in "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" to complement each other, as the story is simply not the story without them all. 

With all of my accolade, I hopefully have piqued your attention to check out this book if you haven't. If you are an enjoyer of mindbenders, of unreliable narrators (my favorite trope!), and of social commentary, please stop reading my review and read the book. I wish not to take away from your initial read, as it's the type of book you might only want to read once. You better make it worth your time.

Now for those who have already read it, or are simply not decisive on reading it on your own time, this review is for you. 

When I first read this book, all I knew was that it's confusing. I'd heard about the movie trend from TikTok, but opted to read the book first. After reading it (all in one sitting, mind you) I appreciated how it was meant to be confusing. Not in a pretentious, if-you-don't-get-it-then-it's-not-for-you type of way, as I feel most anyone can appreciate it; some more than others. And sure, you might have to Google the meaning when you're done. You're definitely going to have a "what the **** was that?" moment when you're done. And normally, I'd say that having to read about what you've already read to process it completely negates the point of the initial read. But for this book, it makes sense.

I mentioned earlier that I love unreliable narrators, and "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is an excellent testimony to that very fact. While most of the story follows an unnamed woman from first person limited point-of-view, it's clear by the end that the protagonist is actually Jake, as the story is about a younger version of himself and a woman that he had been romantically interested in. Jake is depicted as a schizophrenic man, and possibly suffers from some type of personality disorder as well.  Jake's fixation on this woman he'd encountered in a bar decades prior is not the only display of his mental illness, as the random splices between chapters with disorderly whispers mentioning his suicide escalate throughout. The climax of the story is his eventual suicide, which is framed very bizarrely and leaves readers disoriented. The book is meant to be a compilation of his thoughts and experiences through journals he has written, with the splices of character conversations revealing that his discovered entries were a fabricated story of a road trip with this unnamed woman from his past. 

The story of the road trip, and Jake's meeting of his "girlfriend's" parents, is a delusion that he entertains as he succumbs to his illness. As a reader, you're left feeling a little empty inside once you understand what's happened. Jake, in present a school janitor, is trapped in his misery, his journals the expression of the turmoil he harbors. While I cannot speak on what it's like living with schizophrenia or any illness in that vicinity, I feel that the frantic way in which the chapters start to unfold. The perplexing intermittent pages including segments of random dialogue vaguely detailing his illness and suicide is an excellent representation of the inconsistent thought and mood patterns one might experience. As the story starts through the mystery girl's eyes, we see Jake's intelligence sparked, as he is a complex character; without even knowing her name, he has generated a personality and life story for this girl, with quirks of humor present as well. Society has made strides in avoiding the demonization of those struggling with mental illness, but the small snippets of character gossip relaying information of his circumstances and death are a nod to a lack of consideration for those struggling, especially in small towns that only care when it's too late. 

While this story is stomach-turning, and will most likely require some Spark Notes visits to dissect further, I feel the stories that have the most worthwhile messages are those that stick with you; that you read once, and never have to read again, because it's with you forever. And this is exactly that.


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