Tuesday, June 14, 2016


"How do we know when something is menacing?"

Holy cats. Iain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things borrowed my brain, melted it, and almost didn't give it back again. This atmospheric creepfest conjured up great visceral reactions reminiscent of two other similar favorites of mine: Josh Malerman's Bird Box and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts. Totally different books/stories, but the same masterful grasp and gradual throttling of the reader until you're struggling to take a breath and don't want to for fear it will be overheard and SHIT WILL GO DOWN, YO.

Ahem. This debut novel is hands down one of my favorite reads this year. As soon as I finished I wanted to go right back to the beginning and start over again, fleshing out all the little details I'd missed or not realized the significance of the first time through. I also realize this one is likely not for everyone. While I'm not a fan of labels, I'd say if you're into psychological suspense/mindfuckery, run to your nearest bookseller and grab a copy. It's only 224 pages, but it packs a wallop like a 600-page tome.

The premise, what bare bones I'm going to give you of it, is deceptively simple: Jake and his somewhat recent girlfriend are on a road trip to visit his folks at the rural farmhouse where he grew up. The genius is not in the premise, but in the dastardly, stomach-knotting execution. This is the novelized version of the most perfect suspense film you can imagine, the one that has you continually on tenterhooks from your state of elevated unease.

I knew little about this one going in, which was the perfect way to read this book, I think. I had my own blind idea about what the title meant. And I was wrong. And right. And wrong again. Nothing is that simple in this little package of unease.

The farmhouse is a mind-bend in and of itself, and I swear I held my breath through the entire visit. I just read a passage in another book (Noah Hawley's fantastic Before the Fall) which spoke to a horror movie being at its best when it takes a normal scene and imbues it with silence, letting our own minds fill in with suspense and anticipation. Reid worked my nerves this way like a master violinist on a Stradivarius.

You'll find yourself questioning what in the ever-loving hell is going on through most of this book, yet Reid gives you enough line to hang onto that you don't even mind dangling over the precipice. I rarely reread books, but I'm anxious to go back through this one, because I think it was put together masterfully. I'm all-in for Reid's next work.

STREET SENSE:  I highly recommend I'm Thinking of Ending Things to fans of psychological suspense who enjoy a sense of unease along with a bucketful of "what the fuck?!" The fun of this book was being kept wondering just how I was being manipulated.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  The opening passage. I was hooked:

I'm thinking of ending things.
Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It dominates. There's not much I can do about it. Trust me. It doesn't go away. It's there whether I like it or not. It's there when I eat. When I go to bed. It's there when I sleep. It's there when I wake up. It's always there. Always.
I haven't been thinking about it for long. The idea is new. But it feels old at the same time. When did it start? What if this thought wasn't conceived by me, but planted in my mind, predeveloped? Is an unspoken idea original? Maybe I've actually known all along. Maybe this is how it was always going to end.

COVER NERD SAYS: This was one of my favorite covers of the year before I even read the book, so I was very happy that the insides were just as good. I love everything about this cover, which is almost as "WTF?" as the innards. It portends a wild ride, and it's spot on, even if the prose is more slow suspense than full of speed.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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