Lay­ers run deep in this ru­ral thriller

Au­thor’s sec­ond novel an ‘oth­er­worldly hot­house of fan­tasy and in­tro­ver­sion’

Waterloo Region Record - - Books - ALEX GOOD Alex Good is a fre­quent re­viewer.

When Iain Reid’s de­but novel “I’m Think­ing of End­ing Things” came out in 2016, its over-the-top psy­cho-thriller plot drew a num­ber of apt and com­pli­men­tary com­par­isons to the films of M. Night Shya­malan. These are likely to con­tinue with the pub­li­ca­tion of “Foe,” a very sim­i­lar but deeper work.

Both Shya­malan and Reid are masters of sus­pense. “Foe” reads like a house on fire — al­most im­pos­si­ble not to fin­ish in one sit­ting. The story has a gim­mick to it, but it works. You know that twists are com­ing, but they’re not easy to fig­ure out. Only when it’s over, and you have time to catch your breath, do you start to raise ob­jec­tions in your head as to whether any of it made sense.

With­out spoiler alerts, only the ba­sic setup can be de­scribed. “Foe” is set some time in the fu­ture, on a farm op­er­ated by a young cou­ple: Ju­nior and Hen (short for Hen­ri­etta). As the story be­gins, a stranger named Ter­rance ar­rives with some dis­turb­ing news: Ju­nior has been se­lected to be part of the work­force on the con­struc­tion of a space sta­tion. While Ju­nior is away, the or­ga­ni­za­tion Ter­rance works for doesn’t want Hen to be left alone and so of­fers to pro­vide her with a du­pli­cate Ju­nior to keep her com­pany.

The de­tails are left de­lib­er­ately vague, which adds to the un­ease. There is an air of comic men­ace rem­i­nis­cent of a Harold Pin­ter play, with char­ac­ters that seem drawn from the same para­noid ma­trix. Ter­rance is the threat­en­ing but nerdishly comic bully who drops in out of nowhere, Ju­nior is the frus­trated, in­creas­ingly des­per­ate Every­man who has his com­fort­able do­mes­tic life turned up­side-down and Hen is the oddly pas­sive wo­man in the mid­dle who gives the im­pres­sion of know­ing more than she’s let­ting on.

If “Foe” were just a thriller it would be a catchy beach read, but it’s not a book with­out fur­ther lay­ers. It may, for ex­am­ple, be read as a para­ble about the blur­ring bound­aries be­tween our­selves and our tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially when we see Ju­nior be­ing grad­u­ally re­duced to a pile of data col­lected by the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Why does he find it so hard to re­sist? To what ex­tent is he com­plicit in his own un­do­ing? These are ques­tions we’ve all had to face.

An­other an­gle to the story has to do with Ju­nior and Hen’s re­la­tion­ship. How well do they re­ally know one an­other?

While Ju­nior en­joys his life down on the farm, Hen feels her­self to be in a rut. Then, as Ter­rance in­sin­u­ates him­self deeper into their lives they drift even fur­ther apart, while para­dox­i­cally the bond be­tween them grows stronger. Even af­ter the fi­nal re­veal, we’re left to won­der at the weird mix of de­pen­dency, trust and af­fec­tion in their feel­ings for each other.

Per­haps the most strik­ing thing about “Foe,” how­ever, is some­thing it shares with “I’m Think­ing of End­ing Things”: the way Reid — who also wrote two very pop­u­lar mem­oirs — takes the fa­mil­iar Gothic set­ting of the iso­lated farm­stead, which has been a weird enough place in Cana­dian writ­ing go­ing back many years now, and turns it into an oth­er­worldly hot­house of fan­tasy and in­tro­ver­sion. The ru­ral routes of our na­tional un­con­scious are get­ting creepier even as they be­come the roads less trav­elled.

“Foe,” by Iain Reid, Si­mon & Schus­ter, 272 pages, $26.99

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