Review: Foe by Iain Reid

Foe by Iain Reid
Gallery/Scout Press (September 2018)

272 pages; $17.10 paperback; $11.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

Fans of Iain Reid’s first novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things already want this book. They’re looking for more of what he delivered in his debut novel — that  “unique, slightly off-kilter, unsettling prose that grabs you and pulls you into the story until it’s over” kind of thing. Rest assured, he’s done it again.

I don’t want to say that Iain Reid is ruining me for other books, but he is — there, I said it. I’ll try to explain what he does so well: Reid’s narrative is simultaneously sophisticated and casual. It lives in the space between challenging and accessible. I recently tweeted that reading this book felt like eating exotic foods where the foreign flavor explosions have me guessing at the ingredients; my mind in a constant state of exploration — new and exciting but also exactly what I want. How does a writer do this?

Thanks to Reid, I’m also a junkie for short chapters — I wish all books were formatted as such. The mystery of this story is presented immediately. Readers will start gathering questions from page one and then you will carry these with you for the rest of the book.

Junior and Henrietta live in a quaint farmhouse in isolation. A stranger shows up with perplexing news. The duration of the story is the unraveling of the characters as they are forced into some unexpected circumstances. The tension and that initial mystery buzz in your mind, slow and steady at first and then later, aggressively. There are a few recognizable moments where my running theory about the story was stripped away with just a sentence. I built new theories and those too were peeled back, revealing a different idea.

My favorite thing about Iain’s work in this story is also my favorite thing about his previous novel — these characters, their relationship and who they are as people is handcrafted with details so intimate, they feel eerily familiar. I found myself in these pages a few times in Hen’s thoughtlife or in Junior’s frustration. Some scenes I read to my husband because Reid was so mindful of a real couple — the way people are behind closed doors. I can’t help but wonder if Reid is leaving everything on these pages, the story feels so exposed, vulnerable and personal.

When the end finally comes, it’s like falling through the floor. The bottom just drops out and now I have a serious book hangover and a creeping need for another Iain Reid novel. This is a book I’ll read again while I wait for his next one.

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