36 pages 1 hour read

Iain Reid

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


In his 2016 psychological thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid writes about the struggles of depression, social anxiety, and loneliness. Jake, a former physics postdoctoral student and avid writer, works as a janitor in a rural high school. As he contemplates suicide, Jake fictionalizes his memories into a story with characters who represent different aspects of his identity as a way to help him make his decision. In addition to this narrative, Reid provides conversational interludes between two unknown Speakers who posthumously discuss Jake’s suicide. In this guide, descriptions of these dialogues are included in the summaries of the preceding chapter.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is Iain Reid’s first novel and was a finalist for the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award for books written in the psychological suspense and horror categories. The novel is written primarily in first person with the Speaker’s interludes in third person. In 2020, a movie adaption of the novel directed by Charlie Kaufman was released for streaming on Netflix.

Plot Summary

The novel opens with the unnamed female protagonist driving with her boyfriend to his parents’ house for dinner. Jake is actively writing this narrative immediately prior to his suicide. The protagonist represents two women Jake considers he could have loved and whom Jake wants to make the final decision. Reid represents this by having the protagonist’s main conflict center on whether she should end things with Jake. Young Jake, her boyfriend, is excited for the protagonist to meet his family and for them to form a deeper connection with the protagonist. In comparison, the protagonist questions her own motivations in the relationship and whether it is necessary to sacrifice the solitude she values to be in a relationship.

In Chapter 2, the protagonist describes the night she and Jake met at the local university pub on trivia night. Young Jake tells her he would have preferred to name his team “Ipseity,” a play on Jake’s theory of the multiplicity inherent in one’s identity. At the end of the night, young Jake puts his number in the protagonist’s purse. The two begin an intense and intimate relationship that progresses toward commitment at a fast pace.

Though the protagonist feels connected to Jake, she does not share with him the mysterious calls she receives from a man she names the Caller. Starting on the night she met Jake, the protagonist receives calls from a man who imitates a woman’s voice and claims “There is only one question to resolve” (25). The Caller is Jake himself, prompting the protagonist to return to the issue at hand and decide whether to end things with Jake, i.e., to make Jake’s decision about committing suicide. The Caller leaves voicemail messages. As they drive to Jake’s parents’ house, the Caller makes several calls to the protagonist. She lies to Jake and claims it is a friend and not important enough to answer.

During the drive, young Jake and the protagonist discuss several topics that reflect the concerns Jake has about his life, fears, and loneliness. The protagonist shares a memory in which a driving instructor suffering from extreme loneliness attempts to connect with her. Throughout the drive, the protagonist feels guilty she is not able to share her doubts and thoughts with Jake. It feels dishonest to her to meet Jake’s parents if there is a chance she might end things with him.

At Jake’s parents’ farm, the couple take a quick tour to see the animals his family raises. Jake’s parents join them for dinner. The protagonist is unnerved by the parents’ behavior, in particular that of Jake’s mother, who suffers from tinnitus and overcompensates by smiling broadly and intensely. Jake is mostly silent during dinner until his parents suggest playing a game of imitations. Then, Jake imitates the protagonist with uncanny precision, unnerving her.

After dinner, the protagonist uses the bathroom and explores the basement of the house on her own, where she finds old sketches of the basement occupied by two indecipherable figures. In Jake’s bedroom, the protagonist finds a picture of a teenage girl. Jake’s father joins her and explains the girl is Steph, Jake’s former love. Jake and the protagonist leave soon after. Jake’s mother gives the protagonist a folded portrait of Jake to open at the right time.

Jake proposes they stop at Dairy Queen. Though it is snowing, and the store is close to closing, the couple goes inside and orders two frozen lemonades. The protagonist talks with one of the three girls who work at the Dairy Queen. The girl tells the protagonist she is frightened for the protagonist but won’t explain why.

The frozen lemonade quickly melts, and Jake insists they find someplace to throw the cups out. Jake drives them to a secluded high school and throws the cups out in a dumpster. Though the protagonist is anxious to get home and avoid the worst of the snowstorm, the two begin kissing in the car until Jake suddenly stops, claiming a man in the school’s window is watching them. Jake goes into the school to confront the man. As she waits, the protagonist makes her decision to end things with Jake. She follows Jake into the high school to bring him back to the car.

Inside the school, the protagonist believes herself chased by the man from the window. The main doors are chained and locked when she attempts to leave. As the protagonist runs through the high school, her identity begins to morph with that of young Jake and Jake himself. Finally, the protagonist switches to using the plural pronoun “we,” signifying that Jake has reassumed the figments of his identity—Jake and the protagonist—he was writing in his story back into himself. Jake’s decision has been made with the help of the protagonist. He dies by suicide in the janitor’s office. The Speakers’ conversations occur after his death and discuss the shocking, violent, and mysterious motivations behind Jake’s decision.