An e-reader displays part of "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Off the Shelf: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a good way to pass a gloomy winter day

Maybe it’s cliche to read books about relationships for February. But, then again, maybe whether or not something is cliche doesn’t make it good or bad. If cliches are about something expected, then Iain Reid’s 2016 debut novel “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” could certainly be called something unexpected

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I checked it out from the Alaska Digital Library system on my Kindle. I’d say they give a fair summation: “This deeply scary and intensely unnerving novel follows a couple in the midst of a twisted unraveling of the darkest unease.”

At the very least, anyone who picks up “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is in for a densely introspective piece of prose littered with symbolism and Easter eggs that encourages second and third readings for total comprehension. It’s overflowing with stream-of-consciousness monologues that interrogate the meaning of communication, the give and take of relationships and what it means to be.

“Maybe we’re not supposed to know all the answers,” Reid writes. “Questions are good. They’re better than answers. If you want to know more about life, how we work, how we progress, it’s questions that are important. That’s what pushes and stretches our intellect. I think questions make us feel less lonely and more connected.”

Reid in that quote manages both to build out the thinking of one of the novel’s main characters while also speaking directly to part of what makes “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” so unsettling. Not knowing all the answers can certainly be frustrating when reading a book, as it deviates from the tried and true format of using each page to progress the story. Reid certainly seems fine with sometimes leaving readers with more questions than answers.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” was made into a movie of the same name that debuted on Netflix in 2020 and was adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman, perhaps better known for writing the similarly cerebral “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It’s an interesting study in what artists can get away with in film that they could not in literature, and vice versa.

The same clipped rambling that stretch for multiple paragraphs on the page can sound cheesy and exaggerated when spoken aloud by an actor. What works well about the cinematic adaptation, however, is the way Kaufman is so clearly on the same page with Reid about what tweaks to the ordinary will convey the same sense of unease.

Particular scenes that stand out in the movie, for example, that were not in the book include clips of the family dog shaking off a wet coat without stopping for prolonged periods of time, or the subtle aging of a main character’s parents by five or 10 years between scenes.

Some may call those kinds of editorial liberties too much, however, I find them an appropriate substitute to those details more fittingly rendered on the page. What may appear in the novel as repeated sentence fragments or onomatopoeia are kept on screen in the form of tight framing or gritty lighting.

There’s a lot of imagery in both book and movie that Alaskans will find familiar — dark and snowy roads, the glowing signs of an ice cream shop in the blizzard — that make “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” a good spooky read for folks looking to pass a blustery winter day. Amid rich prose and gloomy imagery, the story that unfolds is much darker than what meets the eye and is certain to leave you thinking.

Ashlyn O’Hara can be reached at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of The Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens.

More in Life

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: This and that

Organizations are running out of people to keep them going

This Al Hershberger photo of his good friend Hedley Parsons was taken in Germany in 1945, after World War II had ended. Parsons and Hershberger came to Alaska together a few years later, and in 2010, when Parsons was interviewed for this story, he may have been the last person living who had actually attended George Dudley’s messy funeral
This parting was not sweet sorrow — Part 2

The funeral was scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 5, and spring break-up was in full, sloppy bloom at the Kenai Cemetery

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
A copy of “People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska” stands in sunlight in Soldotna on Friday.
Off the Shelf: Community history project a colorful portrait of hometown

The book features the work of students at Moose Pass School and integrates further stories pulled from a community newspaper

The Anchorage Bowl Chamber Orchestra performs. (Photo courtesy Anchorage Bowl Chamber Orchestra)
Anchorage orchestra group to visit Kenai Peninsula for 10th annual tour

Anchorage Bowl Chamber Orchestra will play four shows from May 30 to June 2

File
Minister’s Message: Boasting only in Christ and the Cross

The Reverend Billy Graham advised every president since Truman during his lifetime

Corn cheese is served alongside grilled beef, kimchi and lettuce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Planning barbecue with all the bells and whistles

Expect kimchi, lots of side dishes, piles of rice, marinated meat for the flame and cold fruit for dessert

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)
On the Screen: New ‘Planet of the Apes’ expands, brings new ideas to franchise universe

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” tells a story that feels more rooted in fantasy than the post-apocalypse vibe of its predecessors

A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Visible art raises people’s spirits’

Local artist’s mural introduced as part of Walmart renovations

Former North Kenai resident George Coe Dudley, seen here during the winter of 1950-51, was a hard-drinking man. His messy funeral in 1967 in Kenai echoed his lifestyle. (Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger)
This parting was not sweet sorrow — Part 1

“Dudley was an easy-going, laid-back sort of guy, always laughing and joking, as well as hard drinking.”

Most Read