A few weeks ago I watched Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The protagonist of this brilliant film (that his cataloging him as a horror film does a great deal of wrong with him), is Chris, an African American photographer that is taking a trip to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. What happens during the rendezvous is far different than what he and the viewers were expecting. This is all you are going to hear from me about this movie. For two reasons. One – the less you know about this movie you are more likely to enjoy it. Two – I am not a film critic. For that, you have people like Dominick Suzanne-Mayer or Ina Diane Archer.
So why the hell am I wasting your time by talking about this movie, no matter how good it is? Because it has so many similar points with I’m thinking of ending things, the book I intend to write about today. The book’s heroine is going also on a trip to meet her boyfriend’s family for the first time. Both families live in a somewhat isolated countryside, and both meetups turn out quite creepy. But while Get Out manages to leverage all these points into a complete cinematic experience, I’m Thinking of Ending Things misses time after time while trying to do the exact same thing.
Some would say that the comparison between a book and a film is unfair, and they wouldn’t be as far from the truth. Books have much more power in creating an eerie atmosphere, while the reader is drifting into the suspension and forget about the outside world. A skilled suspense author, that knows how to extract the reader’s soul into the written word, can take the vulnerability that a person feels in his literature solitude and turn it horrifying delicacy as he penetrates into his mind while deepening the suspense and scorch him from the inside. But Iain Reid is not a skilled author. He might be a talented one, and he did get me to read the first part of the book with my breath taken, but if he was more skilled, I wouldn’t feel so ripped off at the end.
There are far many problems with this book, and if the hour wasn’t so late, I might have sit and count them all. But there are some that I just have to mention.
Like many other writers that grew in front of a TV set, Iain Reid also suffers the screenwriter’s disease. In many of his dialogues, it is quite obvious that he imagined how they would look on the big screen, instead of thinking if they manage to hold a white page properly. For example, the long dialogues between the heroine and her partner at the first part of the book, that might have worked on the big screen, when the viewer lacks the time to delve into them and realize that underneath their supposedly sophisticated layer are standing pale copies of things that were innovative two decades ago when we first saw them in Quentin Tarantino’s or Robert Rodriguez’s first films, But when the reader stumble into them on the page he spot their fakeness in a split second.
One of the biggest weaknesses of books that rely on a surprising twist at the end is that when the big surprise is too obvious to the readers before the grand reveal, the book loses any value it might have. Now, I have nothing against twist endings. Some of my best friends are twist endings. But only if they manage to keep their secret until the right moment. Of course, they must be consistent in second reading, so the reader wouldn’t feel cheated. There should be some signs or clues, or at least not ones that completely contradict the surprising twist. This is where Iain Reid falls twice. If I can guess the book’s big surprise somewhere in the second third of the book, someone made a sloppy job protecting his cards. But this I can forgive.
Reid’s biggest sin, one that I cannot forgive, is by not bothering to explain big parts of the plot. Actually, all the parts that are supposed to create the horrific atmosphere of the book are discovered as such that this was all their purpose. They have no reason or value, and for a matter of fact, if we take them out of the equation, we get a screenwriting exercise that Donald Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman’s less talented brother, could have written while sitting in front of the typewriter and wiping the sweat off his forehead.
In conclusion: one phone ring and even this ring stops in the middle.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things / Iain Reid / Gallery/Scout Press