I’m Thinking of Ending Things Book Review

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a book by Iain Reid. It’s suspenseful, often toying with the reader to make them wonder what is reality, and what is illusion. I’m actually lucky I even read this book, because it wasn’t my first choice. I had a slew of other books I was considering, but my sister pointed this one out to me. I wasn’t initially intrigued, because I figured I couldn’t get the same effect I would in a book that I would from a movie-format psychological thriller. I also thought the cover was trying too hard to be edgy. However, I was incorrect in my hypothesis about the suspense and horror.

We start the novel off with an ominous phrases. Could be taken as many things. “I’m thinking of ending things” occurs so often in the book, and it’s generally thought that our narrator is considering ending her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. Our narrator, nameless, is going to go on a long trip with him to visit his parents. That’s where a lot of her thoughts about terminating things culminate. We get a lot of her inside thoughts, and things turn a little ominous. We hear about another character, The Caller.

The Caller is a secret that she’s keeping from Jake. This person calls late at night, leaving eerie voicemails. Whenever the call is picked up, there’s either breathing or an instant hang up. Her thoughts seem to flow back to Jake, and she thinks about how they met at a trivia night at a pub near their college campus. Jake is some kind of scientist, working in a lab. It’s not exactly said what kind of scientist, or what kind of lab. He uses big words and has an expansive vocabulary; his intelligence is referenced all the time.

At the end of the second chapter, we get a page of what seems to be a conversation between two nameless individuals. Not the narrator nor Jake, and it’s separate from the story the narrator is telling. It alludes to some kind of man that did something horrific. It’s not specific in who they people are talking about, or what exactly he did.

We then hear a memory that the narrator has that is particularly unsettling. Late at night, she woke up and looked out the window. There was an extremely tall man outside, she could only see his torso. He was evidently quite tall, and simply stood there. He did weird things with his hands, like rub them together every so often. But he just stood and seemed to be watching, even though he was taller than the window. Music was playing outdoors in addition to him standing there. And then he waves. That’s what makes it so weird, is that it’s not even a malicious gesture. Just a wave.

As they get to the parents’ house, things are even stranger. They live way out in the middle of nowhere, miles from much civilization. There isn’t really any introduction, no exchanging of names or anything that would be expected from a son bringing home his girlfriend from college. Actually, over dinner, the mother talks a lot about how she hears voices and her hearing is going. Then the mother wants to play a game, about impersonating someone. Jake has been quiet through most of the dinner. The mother insists our narrator impersonate Jake. It seems to irritate him, and then Jake imitates the narrator. She explains it as horrifyingly accurate, as if he were a real impersonation of her. After dinner, she goes to the bathroom, and ends up exploring the dark house.

She stumbles across the basement door, covered in scratches. Obviously, since this is a thriller story, she’s going to explore a place she knows she shouldn’t. She comes across weird paintings, girls with claw-like fingernails. She overhears the parents upstairs talking about how they were upset that someone had lost their job at a lab, hadn’t had a job in a long time. The narrator can’t hear them clearly, since they’re upstairs, but thinks they’re talking about Jake. She knocks over a few cans of paint and runs upstairs.

Deciding it was time to leave, the narrator says her goodbyes to the parents. The dad ends up not being around, and the mom seems like she’s almost pleading for her to stay. A little weirded out, she ends up deciding she has to go home. She has a really bad headache and just wants to get home, plus Jake was supposed to have work in the morning. Jake talks about how he had a brother with mental issues, he would follow people and make weird hand gestures, generally stalking people.

They stop at a Dairy Queen, and the girls inside seem like they’re less than pleased to be there so late at night, working. One girl mumbles how she’s scared for the narrator, that she doesn’t have to go anywhere if she doesn’t want to. The narrator doesn’t really understand.

As if the whole story wasn’t weird, they end up stopping at a school, still in the middle of nowhere, to throw out the cups. Jake gets out the car, it’s pitch black and snowing. He comes back and the narrator and him start to make out. Jake freaks and says there’s someone staring at them from inside the school, the janitor working over winter break. Jake gets angry and runs inside to confront the creepy watcher. The watcher also waved. After a while, the narrator gets scared and tries to go in to find Jake. She hears something like rubber boots, and finds an eerie message, the same message she’d been getting on her phone from The Caller. She runs throughout the school. But then the “I” narration switches to “We”. The narrator isn’t a girl. The narrator is Jake. The Caller is Jake. Jake’s parents aren’t still alive, they’d been dead for some time. “What are you waiting for?” in response to the voicemail message is repeated for four pages. The narrator comes to terms that they are Jake, they are unstable, and decides they want to end things. They use a coat hanger and jam it into their neck several times and bunch up in the closet.

I found this book very unsettling. I loved every minute of it, though. I sat down and read it in a few hours, at nighttime. Night is the best time to read or watch something scary, it enhances the whole experience. I think this book could be suited for maybe high schoolers and college students alike, maybe older. Not middle school, there are some dark themes in it that might be kind of a lot. I think that the twist of the narrator not existing and the parents being dead was executed just right, better than I’m describing it. It’s not tacky, and it doesn’t leave the reader feeling like they were cheated. I’d really recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky book to read!

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Iain Reid

210 pages. Published by Scout Press. $14.99

Reaction to “The Bald Soprano”

 

I attended the Sunday matinee for “The Bald Soprano”. I was actually surprised at how much I found myself enjoying it. One thing that kind of stood out to me was the setting. It for the most part, it looked somewhat like a kind of fancy house, what with a leather sofa and a large clock, and portraits of our characters. But the wall stood out to me. It was blue, and didn’t seem to match the rest of our setting at all. Now, it could easily just be a stretch, but I thought it added a little something to the absurdity of the play. Since nothing else in the play really seems to connect, maybe the wall doesn’t connect with the rest of the background.

I particularly enjoyed Mr. and Mrs. Martin’s monotone dialogue in their first interaction. I hadn’t actually pictured them speaking like that to each other, but it added something comical to their words. Overall, the dialogue was still difficult to follow. I realize that the point is to not make any sense, but actually hearing it just made me understand that I was never going to understand what they were talking about.

In relation to dialogue, I thought the switch from British culture to American culture was interesting. I can’t remember a lot of specifics, but some of the things (like the food choices) might have actually been the same. And they still said “bloody” a few times, definitely a British term. So whether that was either an oversight or deliberately to add to confusion, I’m not entirely sure. I know that they were at least in the suburbs, and quite proud of drinking American water.

Another thing that I thought was made even more absurd was actually hearing the clock chime 20+ times. Several times. It’s one thing to read that it chimes a lot, but hearing it is both funny and unsettling. To add to how wacky the clock’s features were, it ended up shifting and slamming and opening up. I might have just missed it while reading, but I’m not sure I remembered that from the original play.

Speaking of unsettling, the Fire Chief and Maid were a little too convincing. Groping and ear biting, they really sold it. I had underestimated how weird this play was going to be, but they went there. Then again, the point of the play is absurdity, so it actually fits quite well. How many regular plays have such explicit displays of expression on stage?

While I thought the ending was funny, part of it seemed borderline scary. The actors were screaming and moving around all over the place, the lighting was changing, everything was in full discord. It was like watching a horror movie with people frantically scrambling around and screeching. Perhaps even af foreign horror movie, since I had no idea what they were talking about.

“The Uncanny” and Boggarts

Everyone’s scared of something, and some things vary in their fright factor. This is where Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny” comes in. We learn about how fear is relative and depends not only on the individual, but the source of fear. The uncanny is essentially the opposite of aesthetics, described as “undoubtedly related to what is frightening- to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general” (825). Here we see that the term is vague, but is generally understandable as something not pleasing to view and induces some kind of negative emotion related to fear.

Next comes the boggart from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I love the Harry Potter series, so I was naturally excited to apply the uncanny to this book. The boggart is a creature that changes its shape to whatever the viewer is most scared of. Professor Lupin further explains, “Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears” (133). The condition is that the boggart will turn into something that the viewer is likely most scared of. This relates to the different levels of the uncanny, as explained by Freud when he writes, “people vary so very greatly in their sensitivity to the quality of this feeling” (825).

What I find interesting about the uncanny in this scene is the restriction that comes with it. The boggart seems to be able to only take on the fear of one person. That means what appears uncanny to one individual won’t have the same effect on another. This is pointed out by Lupin, saying, “He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a boggart make that very mistake- tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into a half a slug. Not remotely frightening” (134). The boggart’s failure was in the dilemma it had at attempting to become as uncanny as possible to more than one person. Perhaps if someone was deathly afraid of slugs, the boggart could have succeeded in that instance, but alas.

What’s more, the spell the students use is further related to aesthetics. Evidently, as Freud tells us, “aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling” (824). The Ridikkulus spell changes the shape of the boggart. “What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing” (134) Lupin tells us. The boggart is donned in something that is more pleasing to the eye, effectively canceling the uncanny effect or emotions that arise from its initial form. Where the uncanny is a negative form of aesthetics, the change is positive. While the spell doesn’t necessarily apply a beautiful aspect to a boggart, it cancels the scariness of it out.

Detergents and… Dental Strips?

In Roland Barthes’ “Soap-powders and Detergents” from Mythologies, we learn about the dynamic of advertising campaigns that different companies use. In his particular example, he talks about the different connotations that are associated with products that serve the same purpose, but are of a different form of product. Two quarreling brands of laundry cleaners showcase advertisements differently. The brand “Omo”, a detergent, is noted for being able to overcome the negative connotation that detergent is harmful to the skin and clothing. To combat the “Persil” soap-powder brand, Omo’s commercials “indicate the effect of the product (and in superlative fashion, incidentally), but they chiefly reveal its mode of action; in doing so, they involve the consumer in a kind of direct experience with the substance” (37). They show exactly what their product does, which effectively neutralizes the myth of detergent being harmful.

In the vein of materials that clean, we turn our attention to whitening strips and toothpaste. We live in a world where cleanliness is equivalent to class and how presentable one is. Everyone knows the rule of brushing at least twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash to ensure proper dental hygiene. However, that’s not enough. Even with this method, there is still the possibility of something awful occurring in your mouth: yellow teeth. Enter whitening toothpaste. Just like nobody wants stains on their clothes, nobody wants stains on their teeth. There is a similar connotation with whitening ingredients in toothpaste as with the harmful chemicals in detergents. However, this Crest 3D White Deluxe Diamond Strong (which, by the way, is quite an impressive array of superficial titles to grant to a toothpaste) shows us, in a similar way to Omo’s detergent, the benefits of whitening:

Stronger enamel. Whitens your teeth. It has benefits! You can take selfies and not delete them because of your off-white teeth. The visual shows us exactly how the toothpaste will better the teeth. Like with the description of Omo’s detergent advertisement, we are walked through the effects of the toothpaste. Not only that, but the women change from a casual setting (where it’s okay not to necessarily look your best) to a party, where everyone can see you. This shows us that Crest 3D White Luxe Diamond Strong is going to allow us to go out into public without fear of tooth humiliation.

Now, if toothpaste weren’t enough, we also have whitening strips. Whitening toothpaste alone is so 2015. The fear here that has to be overcome is the issue of enamel removal. Everyone knows that enamel protects the teeth, and it’s dangerous to damage it. What’s interesting is that whitening strips seem to do a deeper clean, meaning that you’re able to be more confident with your smile. Let’s take a look at these two ladies enjoying a pleasant brunch in a 2016 commercial:

So, we see dilemma of not passing the tissue test. The issue is highly superficial, yes, but it remains in the same realm of advertising at Omo. If you consider Crest’s other product, just the toothpaste as the Persil of the Omo vs Persil dilemma, Crest Whitening Strips would be the Omo. Not only is it safe, but it’s better than just using whitening toothpaste. Just as Omo detergent is not only safe, but it does a deep clean. We see that by the contrast in the blonde woman’s teeth in either setting. There’s also a social aspect at play here: the women were previously outdoors, but now they are in a clearly elegant restaurant, where one is supposed to show that they are a cut above the rest. An upper crust wouldn’t have white teeth, would they?

As far the competitive teeth whitening industry goes, it’s clear that there’s a relation to maintaining safety, while assuring cleanliness. As Omo mastered the “art of having disguised the abrasive function of the detergent under the delicious image of a substance at once deep and airy” (37-38), Crest shows that their whitening toothpaste (and eventually, the better whitening strips) are safe and won’t harm teeth to get the deep cleaning, whitening effects. The stigma of chemical whitening, then the stigma of accidental enamel removal, are neutralized in these commercials.