September 26th, 2018

Yesterday, I finished reading Foe by Iain Reid. Actually, I listened to this book. My friend Amanda Reaume finally convinced me to give audio books a try, and I believe this story was a particularly good one with which to start. The language is exquisitely simple and bare, like bones. There are only three characters. The setting is rural, in the near future, with little mention of technology. Just that everyone has a “screen.” Oh, and the big mission Junior might be going on. Junior is the protagonist. His direct narration keeps all the conflict right at the surface, and this feels like more than skilled writing, it feels like part of the story. When he has an argument with his wife, he tells us plainly: “It’s not good. I feel bad.” When he sees a nearby barn on fire, he knows he has to help: “I can’t be a bystander. I have to be brave. I have to act.” The spare declarations become rhythmic, like a chant, weighted with significance and foreboding: “The more Hen talks about the heat, the more I’m aware of it.” Well, isn’t that eerie. Does she control you with her thoughts? Are you in some sort of simulation? At its best, the exactitude of Junior’s thoughts feels almost fable-like, and everything takes on the sheen of metaphor or allegory: “The roads aren’t worn out from overuse, but from neglect.” Only when he gets angry and yells and swears does he break from this pattern. But when he gets angry doesn’t give us any hints either. The causes of his anger are universal: it comes hot on the heels of the fear that he’s losing control over someone or something. Just like any other human. When he does get angry, Terrence, their visitor, steps in and gives him something to calm him down. After all, Junior might have to leave and undertake a big mission. (This is not a spoiler, btw. We know the premise in the first few pages.) He needs to preserve his strength, to save his nerves. The anger passes and we’re back in the mysterious purgatory of not knowing what anyone really means. We can guess, we can make good guesses, but we can’t be sure until the end. A real page turner. Or I should say audio runner!