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In Debut Thriller Novel, Iain Reid Delivers Shivers Without Reader Knowing Why


"I'm Thinking Of Ending Things" is the evocative title of a new book by Canadian writer Iain Reid. We meet a young couple, maybe in love. He - his name is Jake - invites the girl to meet his parents. His parents live on a farm in rural Canada. They drive - so far, so good.

But almost immediately, there's a little moment. They dive by a burned-down farm house. Jake says that happened about a decade ago. But in the front yard, there is a new swing set. When the girl asks, what's with the new swing set, Jake says, let me know if you get cold. Are you cold? And there is the first shivery moment of a shivery book. Iain Reid told me he was inspired by time he had spent on his parents' farm in a remote part of Ontario.

IAIN REID: I had an idea for a novel throughout that time. So it was something I had been thinking about for probably almost a decade. And then I sort of felt ready to start it. And I didn't necessarily have an objective in mind. I sort of had this idea and this premise. And I certainly knew that I wanted to convey feelings that were more unsettling, I think. You know, both of my first two books were comforting. They were about things that were pleasant for me to experience. So I wanted to do something that for me was very different, and that was to unsettle a reader and make them uncomfortable.

WERTHEIMER: Are you a fan of anybody who writes this kind of book? I mean, you like scary books like Stephen King, maybe, or Edgar Allen Poe?

REID: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think for me, you know, it's also not necessarily pure horror. So I also think of books like Doris Lessing's "The Fifth Child," even Faber's "Under The Skin," books that just - when I read them, I was rattled and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. And so it's not necessarily traditional horror for me in the sense that, you know, there are jump scares or there's a - you know, a madman on the loose.

WERTHEIMER: Don't open that door. Don't open that door.

REID: Yeah, exactly, which I think is also - provides a certain kind of pleasure. But I think this book is a little more - it's a little bit more of a slow burn, I think, a little more philosophical. I would even go back to that - some of the stuff maybe I studied in philosophy and even some Shakespeare. And some of that stuff, I think, can actually - when you start thinking about the ideas that can be quite frightening as well.

WERTHEIMER: Now we have Jake. Then we have the girlfriend. Jake's parents also appear. And there is the girl at the Dairy Queen. But Jake is the only character who has a name. Why'd you do that?

REID: Well, you know, I think again, that for me was something that was in my mind fairly early on. And I think people, as they sort of read this book they'll start to question things in the same way that Jake and his girlfriend are facing a lot of questions. And this book, I think, is a lot about doubt and sort of questioning things and wondering and feeling a little bit of anxiety. And as you start to think more about what's happening and who's involved, it might be a little bit hard to piece it all together.

And the more you focus on it, the sort of more uncertain as a reader that you become. And again, I think I sort of like that feeling if I'm reading a book that as - the farther I get into it, the more I'm unsure, that that can rewarding, I think, in its own way.

WERTHEIMER: You do invite the reader to participate, even if it's only to be confused. You drop clues all along the way. And then one of the things I thought was most interesting was that you pick up the pace of the book in a very foreboding way. Things grow stranger, make less sense. I think that there must be a lot of readers who are like me - you know, want to know, am I getting it? So am I getting it?

REID: I would never feel sort of comfortable telling a reader that yes, they're getting it or no, they're not. I think with this story, you know, you have the authority to tell me what it's about and what it means for you. I think I just use my own experience as a reader. And I know if I'm reading a book that, for me, feels like something I haven't read before, and if it's a book that I might give to a friend that they'll have a slightly different version or take or interpretation of the story. And that, for me, is exciting. I like that.

So, you know, once someone reads this book if they have an interpretation that's different, I sort of welcome that. For me, that's interesting. And I have my own interpretation. I have my own idea of what the story's about. But it doesn't mean that's going to be the case for everyone.

WERTHEIMER: Iain Reid's book is called "I'm Thinking Of Ending Things." Thank you very much.

REID: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.