Book review: ‘We Spread’

Iain Reid’s third novel is a powerful meditation on aging

Reid is one of Canada’s best authors.
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Talented Kingston-based author and Queen’s alumni Iain Reid published his third novel We Spread on Sept. 27 via Simon & Schuster. 

Reid established himself as one of the industry’s brightest up-and-coming novelists with his 2016 debut I’m Thinking of Ending Things and 2018 follow-up Foe. Now, with We Spread, he’s delivered another thought-provoking chiller to further cement his can’t-miss status. 

The novel’s narrative follows an elderly lady named Penny as she transitions into an assisted living facility a few years after the death of her unnamed romantic partner. 

In the years since his passing, Penny has slowly adjusted to the somber, lonely life of a widowed senior citizen. However, when she falls in her kitchen and hits her head, it prompts her landlord to bring her Six Cedars—a plan she supposedly agreed to years ago. 

Penny finds the transition jarring at first, but quickly begins to appreciate the company of the other seniors living alongside her. It’s immediately clear how badly she’s missed the things we so often take for granted: eating with others, casual conversation, and connection.

Under the watchful eye of Six Cedars staff, Penny rediscovers her love for painting, a passion she abandoned after the death of her partner, who was also an artist. 

However, not everything is as it seems. 

Penny becomes unsettled by how much the Six Cedars staff know about her past. She starts to take note of how closely they’re watching over her, and how nobody can quite seem to remember agreeing to be there in the first place. 

Discussing the plot in further detail would risk spoilers. Rest assured; the story unfolds with Reid’s usually cryptic brand of intrigue and suspense. 

Like his other two novels, We Spread is a masterwork in slowly peeling back the layers of an unnerving mystery. Reid has once again written a deep character study that reads with the brisk, forward pace of an airport-rack page-turner. 

As always, his prose is noteworthy; no one does more with less. 

Reid’s style is short and to the point. He writes in the first-person perspective, favouring snappy, heavy-hitting lines over winding sentences. His writing is quick and purposeful without ever veering into pretentiousness—it’s truly refreshing. 

However, where We Spread truly excels is in its reflections on aging. Reid is only 41, yet writes about aging as if he’s experienced it firsthand. 

Penny’s mediations are brutally honest, yet never cynical. Her reflections on life, her body, and mind read as sincere and authentic. Reid has a knack for crafting thoughtful narrators and may have written his best one yet this time around. 

For all the positives, We Spread is not a perfect novel. 

The story ends a little bit too soon. While part of Reid’s appeal is how comfortable he is leaving the reader to answer their own questions, the book feels as if it ends just as he’s beginning to deliver the key pieces needed to form conclusions. 

A few more chapters to unpack Penny’s relationship with her partner and Six Cedar’s intentions for their residents would have gone a long way. 

Nonetheless, this is another strong effort from Reid. Give it a read and be sure to spread this story to everyone you know who enjoys a good yarn.

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