We don’t get visitors. Not out here. We never have. Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company.
The setting? An isolated, rural farmhouse in the midst of genetically modified canola fields. Almost all of the book’s scenes are taken place here.
Time period? The near future. A time when driverless cars are the only kind there are. A time when there are ‘mega farms’, when it is against the law to own livestock.
The characters? Junior, his wife, Hen (Henrietta) and the odd stranger, Terrance.
A stranger arrives one evening with an unexpected and unsettling proposition. He says that Junior has won the lottery. He will have the coveted opportunity to travel to OuterMore, a space ‘Installation’. It has all been arranged… The offer is only for Junior, he must leave Hen at home.
“You’ve been selected, Junior. You’ve been chosen. You’ll be going away. You’re going to be part of the Installation.”
The thoughts of this ‘conscription‘ like offer change the dynamic of the previously loving couple. The stranger goes away and only returns a few years later. Now he says that Junior has won the ‘lottery’ and he is to prepare the couple for the experience.
The couple do not sleep well anymore. Hen hears scratching noises in the walls.
There is a tenseness in the atmosphere. Terrance says he will staying at their house while preparing Junior and Hen for the experience. Hen begins to clean out the spare room for Terrance to stay in. She finds a gigantic rhinoceros beetle in the closet…
Junior likes it when Hen plays the piano. But does Hen enjoy it? Their relationship seems strained.
Junior, unsure as to whether he wants this ‘experience’ goes for a walk in the canola fields after work. He sees a barn burning. Knowing that fire is a dangerous event out here, he runs to try to put out the fire. He is attacked and badly injured. It turns out that his attackers work alongside Terrance . They attacked him only to keep him ‘safe‘. Safe for his journey to OuterMore which could take a long time – possible years, not months…
What is even more unsettling is the fact that they are told that Hen will not be left alone while he is gone. Someone will be living with her at the farm. Someone very familiar.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Foe‘? What springs to my mind is the phrase “Friend or Foe”. That phrase is very fitting here. All the while, the protagonist, Junior, wonders if this stranger named Terrance is his friend or his enemy.
I wondered while reading “Foe” why Junior and Hen didn’t protest more. Why they didn’t seek out the opinions of others regarding their live-changing offer? Were they frightened of this ‘top-secret’ government offer? Did they expect reprisals if they mentioned it?
What the publisher says is true. “Foe” is a “philosophical puzzle“. It examines some deep themes. Themes like the importance of ‘identity’, what it means to have control over your own life, make your own choices, how social isolation affects the human psyche, how each human being might be insignificant in the overall scheme of things… It questions if you can ever really know another person, or, if you can ever really know yourself. About not taking anything for granted – appreciating the little joys of life.
The only thing this novel had in common with Iain Reid’s first book “I’m thinking of ending things“, is the exemplary writing. His prose is edgy, compelling, and, in this instance, permeated with a sense of foreboding. Oh, and another thing the two novels had in common? They both left the reader wondering… wondering what was true, what was engineered by the author to deceive the reader, what the H*** just happened?
All I know for sure is that if Iain Reid’s version of the future is correct, I want no part of it. I’ll be reflecting on this book for some time. I have so many questions.
Where “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” was a creepy psychological thriller that left you brooding, “Foe” is a science fiction/dystopian horror/thriller genre melting pot. Not my personal choice of genre, but the writing and unique story kept me riveted throughout. I’m pretty sure I will read everything this author writes. I have no choice but to highly recommend “Foe” which will appeal to many different readers for reasons known only to themselves…
I received a paperback ARC of this novel compliments of Simon & Schuster Canada.
Iain Reid is the author of two critically acclaimed, award-winning books of nonfiction, One Bird’s Choice, and The Truth About Luck, which was one of The Globe and Mail’s best books of 2013. In 2015, he received the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award. Reid’s work has appeared in a variety of publications throughout North America. He is the author of the very suspenseful and thought-provoking novel “I’m thinking of ending things“. Foe is his second novel. Follow him on Twitter @Reid_Iain.