By: Ian Reid
Publisher: Gallery Books
Narrator: Robin Miles
Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 09/27/2022
My Rating: 5 Stars + (ARC)
The author of the “evocative, spine-tingling, and razor-sharp” (Bustle) I’m Thinking of Ending Things that inspired the Netflix original movie and the “short, shocking psychological three-hander” (The Guardian) Foe returns with a new work of philosophical suspense.
Penny, an artist, has lived in the same apartment for decades, surrounded by the artifacts and keepsakes of her long life. She is resigned to the mundane rituals of old age, until things start to slip. Before her longtime partner passed away years earlier, provisions were made, unbeknownst to her, for a room in a unique long-term care residence, where Penny finds herself after one too many “incidents.”
Initially, surrounded by peers, conversing, eating, sleeping, looking out at the beautiful woods that surround the house, all is well. She even begins to paint again. But as the days start to blur together, Penny—with a growing sense of unrest and distrust—starts to lose her grip on the passage of time and on her place in the world. Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging, or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?
At once compassionate and uncanny, told in spare, hypnotic prose, Iain Reid’s genre-defying third novel explores questions of conformity, art, productivity, relationships, and what, ultimately, it means to grow old.
Iain Reid returns following "Foe" and "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" with his latest and my favorite of the three —WE SPREAD. As with the other two books, a movie adaption and the novel has been acquired by Anonymous Content, with Baig set to direct from a screenplay she will co-write with Reid.
This novel is deeply thought-provoking —a meditation on aging and mortality.
WE SPREAD proposes many questions underneath the exterior of a psychological thriller that comes off more of philosophical suspense and literary thriller, which I am a big fan of.
Penny is a great character. She reminds me a little of Elizabeth Strout's Lucy Barton. She is old and set in her ways (much like myself), and her partner, who was an artist, has died.
Penny is also an artist. A surrealist, unlike her late partner, who painted landscapes. Her choice of artistic mode is deliberate. She did not really show her work professionally, living behind her partner.
She is still living alone in the same apartment all these years. She lives a dull life, thinking someone is watching. She has not been in the mood to paint lately. She also does not really trust the management at the apartment (who does).
She likes living independently, and rather than calling maintenance to help, she stands on a chair to change out a light bulb, falls, and is knocked out while something is/was cooking on the stove. We get to hear her innermost thoughts.
When she comes to, the apartment manager is there and gets her in the car. The destination is her new home which she is totally unaware of. Now, I do not blame Penny, I would not like this. She now is not in control. This is where things get claustrophobic.
The landlord is taking her to Six Cedars Retirement Home, a small Assisted Living or eldercare facility. Her apartment was in the city, and now she is out in the country among a forest of cedar trees. What is going on at this place?
She is told that her partner made the arrangements in advance for her to come here. All is taken care of when she is unable to care for herself. However, she recalls nothing about this.
Are they telling the truth, or is something more sinister going on? This novel is like a mystery/puzzle to be solved.
Upon arrival, she learns her things are in storage, and her other things are here, along with her paintings. The room is nice and completely furnished, and surrounded by woods.
She then learns there are only four residents and two staff in total, including herself. They said they had been waiting for her to round out the four. What is that about?
The staff consists of Shelly, the owner, and Jack, the staff member. Trust me, they hover, are nosy, and controlling, and she has no privacy. They have no locks on the doors to the apartments or the bathroom. You may be asleep, and they are sitting in a chair at the foot of your bed! CREEPY!
Besides Penny, there is Hilbert, a mathematician (whom Penny enjoys talking with and spending time with); Peter, a violinist who sleeps a lot and is not much of a conversationalist; and Ruth, a French-language expert who talks and laughs a lot.
Penny, along with the other residents, has a strict routine. They must go eat at a certain time in the dining room with the other four, and Shelly is always around listening to conversations.
At first, Penny likes talking to other people, and she even begins painting again. The food is good, and the place is pleasant and attentive. They even bathe you and help you with walking, etc. This place may not be so bad... UNTIL
However, soon she realizes Jack, whom she likes, always seems to be hiding something or afraid of Shelly. Shelly is over the top in her thinking, making them work, engage, and have meetings every day, and the big one is that NO one is allowed to go outside. NEVER. No fresh air.
Then strange things start happening, and Penny soon suspects there is definitely something sinister going on. This is where the novel takes a turn toward the paranormal.
Are they ginny pigs or a science project? Shelly cuts their hair and their nails, and then they grow back. Then the IVs. What is in the IVs? Also, what is in the food and the tea? She overhears conversations, and she does not like what she hears. Very disturbing.
Is she going mad, losing her mind, is it aging, dementia, or is it, Shelly? If she could only escape, and if she could, what would she do? She must save the others before it is too late.
Lyrical. Evocative. Spine-chilling. Eerie. Unsetting!
I read this in one sitting. I was glued to the pages. I just turned 70 and am single, living in a state far away from my grown sons, so aging, living independent, and worry about the day which will come when I cannot do things for myself, dying with dignity, maintaining control and end of life are all viable concerns.
I think this is why this book resonated with me. Even though it is a thriller, wacky, and crazy, as I mentioned earlier, it is also soulful, meditative, and reflective.
Complex and multi-layered— think Elizabeth Strout meets Dean Koontz and Stephen King with Iain's brilliant signature style.
Iain is a superb writer. He is deep, and his books make you think and make you smarter. You may go back and re-read parts of his books to get the full understanding. I like how each of his books is different, from the janitor (teens), a married couple, to aging.
We all are going to die. Like in the book, some want to extend life, others want to enjoy their life day by day and live as independently as possible, some want solitude, and others want people around.
This book will make a great movie, and excited it was snatched up, which is not surprising. I cannot wait to see how it is played out. If you love thrillers with a strong literary flair, WE SPREAD is it.
There are many lovely metaphors, and you will be googling and researching many more things after reading. An ideal book club pick for further discussions.
I also loved the way the book was laid out with one sentence floating on a page, similar to the way Penny was thinking or feeling. Some may not like the ending, but I did! I think the way you interpret it is up to the reader.
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
My Rating: 5 Stars
Pub Date: Sept 27, 2022
“Reid combines magnetic character development with clipped, eerie prose in this masterfully crafted psychological thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the very last word on the final page.”
"Iain Reid’s We Spread is taut and frightening read, perhaps best called a thriller. But the true thrill is in how so slender a book tackles such big questions—What does it mean to make art? What happens as we near death?—with such grace.”
—Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave The World Behind
“[An] exquisite novel of psychological suspense . . . [Leaves] readers contemplating their own mortality and primed to see the sinister behind the mundane . . . This deep plunge into fears about growing old and losing control is unforgettable.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"In We Spread Iain Reid masterfully gets into the psyche of his characters and readers all at once. What a gift."
—Alma Har'el, Director of Bombay Beach, Honey Boy, and Shadow Kingdom.
"I loved this book and couldn't put it down--a deeply gripping, surreal and wonderfully mysterious novel. Not only has Reid given us a brilliant page turner, but a profoundly moving meditation on life and art, death and infinity. Reid is a master."
— Mona Awad, author of Bunny and All’s Well
“With this latest hypnotic transmission, Reid delves into the strange substructures of psychology, where individual minds blur and a more undifferentiated kind of life teems. With tenderness and mastery, he offers us great insights on the nature of aging and the vertiginous experience of being human.”
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun
"We Spread is simply hypnotic. This novel works by a fine hat trick of genre-twisting subtlety, chilling suspense, and a bone-close two-fold portrait of aging in a world that devours everything. The book surprises, even betrays, and every second of its rich rewards is earned by Iain Reid's winning, wise restraint. Read it to be caught in this brilliantly inspired vision of art and life. I am glad I did."
–Canisia Lubrin, Griffin Poetry Prize winning author of The Dyzgraphxst
"We Spread is pure storytelling magic. Suspenseful, philosophically rich, and fully audacious in both setting and voice, it is a psychological thriller that enthralls through distinctly lucid and propulsive prose. Iain Reid once again most powerfully illuminates the mysteries of art, life, and consciousness."
–David Chariandy, author of Brother
About the Author
Iain Reid is the author of four previous books, including his New York Times bestselling debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which has been translated into more than twenty languages.
Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed the film adaptation for Netflix. His second novel, Foe, is being adapted for film, starring Saoirse Ronan, with Reid co-writing the screenplay. His latest novel is We Spread. Reid lives in Ontario, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @Reid_Iain.
Hala director Minhal Baig and author Iain Reid are teaming to adapt Reid’s upcoming third novel, We Spread.
Anonymous Content has acquired the novel, with Baig set to direct from a screenplay she will co-write with Reid. Anonymous Content’s Kerry Kohansky-Roberts will produce, with Robert Walak and Whitney Dibo overseeing on behalf of the company’s AC Studios, which most recently was onscreen with Apple feature Swan Song.
We Spread, which will be published this September by Scout Press in the U.S., follows an aging artist who, after the death of her partner, is moved into a unique long-term care residence where she begins to distrust her day-to-day reality. The book’s official description asks: “Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging, or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?”
Reid’s first novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, was adapted by Charlie Kaufman into a 2020 feature for Netflix. His second, Foe, is being adapted into a film starring Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal and Aaron Pierre, with Reid co-writing the screenplay with director Garth Davis. Reid is repped by CAA and Transatlantic Agency.
Baig, who is represented by CAA, 3 Arts and Cohen Gardner Law, has set a series adaptation of Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds under her overall television deal with Amazon Studios.