By Lois Kennedy
Our narrator (who is never named), is on a road trip with her new boyfriend Jake to meet his parents. She is thinking seriously about ending the relationship (hence the title). The ‘rents live out in the middle of nowhere on a farm. After a strange experience with Jake’s family, Jake begins acting odd on the drive home. Still out away from civilization, Jake insists on stopping at a deserted high school. He disappears (with the car keys, natch), and the narrator is forced to go after him. This does not improve her situation.
The book is quite short, only a little over 200 pages. The pacing is fast enough to keep the story going, but the narrative is mighty dialogue-driven. There is more than a page devoted just to how Jake eats breakfast. Characters tend to talk rather than doing stuff; the whole action with the high school is 2/3 of the way through the book. However, it’s never boring. The prose is lyrical but straightforward: “The way our clothes lay in messy heaps around the bed made the room look like a crime scene.” And Reid does a fantastic job of building a sense of unease, particularly around Jake. He’s established by the narrator in flashbacks as smart and rational and philosophical, but as time goes by, this view of him is debatable. There are also little creepy, mysterious things like a new swing set in front of an abandoned house, a person who calls from the narrator’s phone to her phone, and the memory the narrator has about a tall man looking in her window. Not all of the mysteries get resolved, which leaves a lasting impression even after the book is finished.
Speaking of philosophy, the book is rich with little tidbits of life truisms. Among my favorites are: “A memory is its own thing each time it’s recalled. It’s not absolute. Stories based on actual events often share more with fiction than fact. Both fictions and memories are recalled and retold. They’re both forms of stories. Stories are the way we learn. Stories are how we understand each other. But reality happens only once.” In one scene, Jake is discussing why, as a child, he worried about his limbs falling off; his father put rubber bands on lambs’ tails, which makes them fall off: “Every so often, as a kid, I’d be out in the fields and I’d find a severed lamb tail. I started to wonder if the same thing could happen to me. What if the sleeves on a shirt or a pair of socks were slightly too tight? And what if I slept with my socks on and I woke up in the middle of the night and my foot had fallen off? It made me worry, too, about what’s important. Like, why isn’t the tail an important part of the lamb? How much of you can fall off before something important is lost?” And, the ultimate theme of the book, that we can never really know another person: “It’s so rare for others to know everything we’re thinking. Even those we’re closest to or seemingly closest to. Maybe it’s impossible. Maybe even in the longest, closest, most successful marriages, the one partner doesn’t always know what the other is thinking. We’re never inside someone else’s head. We can never really know someone else’s thoughts. And it’s thoughts that count.”
Overall, it was a fascinating and gripping read. Pick it up if you’re in the mood for something fast that packs a punch.