‘Foe’ has only become more relevant with time

Iain Reid’s 2018 novel is a can’t-miss masterpiece

Reid packs a lot into a slender novel.
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Despite being released in 2018, Foe, written by Queen’s alum Iain Reid, has become more topical than ever in 2021.

After Reid, ArtSci ’04, won the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award in 2015, he captivated literary circles with his debut novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things. It received universal acclaim for its chilling dissection of a failing relationship and has since been adapted into a feature film.

Nobody would have faulted Reid for following up his debut with something accessible. He had every right and reason to keep building on his popularity. Most authors never reach the heights of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, but Reid isn’t like most authors.

Foe is both a gripping thriller and a thoughtful analysis of marriage. Through his deceptively simple prose and razor-sharp pacing, Reid toys with expectations—both in terms of what the reader can expect from his novel and their relationships.

As society’s impending return to normalcy has most people questioning themselves and perhaps even their relationships, the themes in Foe are more relevant than ever in 2021.

The novel’s premise is straightforward. Junior and Hen’s mundane farm life is rudely interrupted by a stranger with a proposition. By some stroke of chance, Junior has been selected as one of the lucky few being sent on a long trip to outer space.

This announcement drives an immediate stake between Junior and Hen. Even though it’ll be years before Junior departs on the trip, his marriage is already showing signs of stagnation. Hen is rightfully unimpressed by the idea of her husband leaving.

Further discussing the plot would be wading into spoiler territory, but rest assured, Reid has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Those who found themselves shocked by the final pages of I’m Thinking of Ending Things are in for another round of delightful head-scratching.

Throughout Foe, Reid proves himself a master of voice.

The story unfolds through the perspective of Junior, a thoughtful and observant narrator brought to life by Reid’s attention to detail and remarkably effective use of short sentences. His positive qualities and obvious flaws are distinctly human and relatable.

While most readers won’t ever be invited to outer space, many will connect with Junior’s growing self-awareness toward the changes in his relationship with Hen.

Reid believably explores the nuances of a committed relationship as the story progresses. As the date for Junior’s departure draws closer, Hen’s uncomfortable feelings are well-communicated through careful storytelling and clever conversations.

Foe work so well because Reid is a master of the craft. Unlike many of his peers who also write literary fiction for thoughtful readers, Reid accomplishes a lot with very little. His pacing is razor-sharp, and his prose is deceptively simple, never over-written.

This novel is a question at its core. Reid seems determined to not only understand what makes people fall in love but why they so often fall out of love, too.

The pandemic brought many people together as they sought companionship during trying times, but things have changed. The context in which love exists is different in 2021, especially for young people who may be navigating serious emotions for the first time.

While Foe is ultimately light on concrete answers, it provokes discussion about increasingly relevant topics in COVID-19 times. This is an expertly written masterpiece from one of Queen’s finest products and one of Canada’s brightest new authors.

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