This psychological thriller is bizarre. Beyond knowing this, the reader might be wise to just read the book before reading my analysis or any other book review because there will be inadvertent revelations in any discussion of this book.
Ostensibly the book is about a girl driving with her boyfriend Jake to meet his parents at the family farm. She, the narrator, remains unnamed. Her relationship with Jake is fairly new, but she is thinking of ending it. An awkward visit with the parents is followed by the drive home in a snow storm with a detour to an empty high school where things become really strange. And then there’s the ending which reveals that nothing is as it seemed. The ending invites the reader to re-read the book from a different perspective: “You should read it. But maybe start at the end. Then circle back.”
I did re-read it and certainly understood more than I did on my first reading. I could probably go back and read it again, but more books await, and I’ve lost interest in puzzling this one out any more. Admittedly, the second reading made me appreciate the many subtle clues dispersed throughout. The author must be commended for being able to write in such a way that statements can have two different meanings right from the beginning: “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.”
This book will appeal to readers who enjoy books who leave them feeling uneasy because things just don’t feel right. The information given about Jake suggests he is an unusual person. After all, who would want a trivia team to be called Ipseity, “just another way to say selfhood or individuality,” because “there are many of us but we aren’t like any other team. And because we play under a single team name, it creates an identity of oneness”? He calls his girlfriend “therapeutic”? He claims a childhood photo is of him, but the girlfriend says, “It doesn’t look like Jake. Not at all. It looks like a little girl. More precise: it looks like me.” Who keeps an envelope labelled “Us” with close-up photos of body parts? Yet, despite his oddities, the girlfriend feels “a real connection, a rare and intense attachment”? Obviously, all of these statements are clues to what is really going on. And, of course, it’s not only Jake who is quirky; there are other strange characters.
The setting is also used to create suspense. The family farm is remote, and its deteriorating state with its animal carcasses adds to the sense of unease. The farm’s isolation is emphasized when Jake and his girlfriend drive through a storm on the way home. It was a dark and stormy night . . . The girlfriend’s anxiety is passed on to the reader, especially when she makes statements like, “I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. I’m not lucid . . . I can feel my fear growing.” Most interesting, at one point, the author even tells the reader how he is creating suspense: “My story is not like a movie . . . It’s not heart-stopping or intense or bloodcurdling or graphic or violent. No jump scares. To me, these qualities aren’t usually scary. Something that disorients, that unsettles what’s taken for granted, something that disturbs and disrupts reality – that’s scary.”
The book is really about how we cannot really know each other. The girlfriend wants “someone to know me, really know me, almost like that person could get into my head.” She realizes, however, that “We’re never inside someone else’s head. We can never really know someone else’s thoughts. And it’s thoughts that count. Thought is reality. Actions can be faked.” And “We can’t and don’t know what others are thinking. We can’t and don’t know what motivations people have for doing the things they do. Ever. Not entirely.”
The novel also addresses the importance of memories and stories. “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.”
If you are a reader who is a cruciverbalist and enjoys elaborate metaphors and symbols, this book is for you. Be prepared to not “understand the [novel’s] world through rationality, not entirely . . . [but] to accept, reject, and discern through symbols [which are] important to our understanding of life, our understanding of existence and what has value, what’s worthwhile . . . ” And when you’re done, why not read Pincher Martin by William Golding?