A taut, psychological mind-bender from the bestselling author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
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.
Foe examines the nature of domestic relationships, self-determination, and what it means to be (or not to be) a person. An eerily entrancing page-turner, it churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale.
Foe Two headlights. I wake to the sight of them. Odd because of the distinct green tint. Not the usual white headlights you see around here. I spot them through the window, at the end of the lane. I must have been in a kind of quasi slumber; an after-dinner daze brought on by a full stomach and the evening heat. I blink several times, attempting to focus.
There’s no warning, no explanation. I can’t hear the car from here. I just open my eyes and see the green lights. It’s like they appeared out of nowhere, shaking me from my daze. They are brighter than most headlights, glaring from between the two dead trees at the end of the lane. I don’t know the precise time, but it’s dark. It’s late. Too late for a visitor. Not that we get many of them.
We don’t get visitors. Never have. Not out here.
I stand, stretch my arms above my head. My lower back is stiff. I pick up the open bottle of beer that’s beside me, walk from my chair straight ahead several steps to the window. My shirt is unbuttoned, as it often is at this time of night. Nothing ever feels simple in this heat. Everything requires an effort. I’m waiting to see if, as I think, the car will stop, reverse back onto the road, continue on, and leave us alone, as it should.
But it doesn’t. The car stays where it is; the green lights are pointing my way. And then, after a long hesitation or reluctance or uncertainty, the car starts moving again, toward the house.
You expecting anyone? I yell to Hen.
“No,” she calls down from upstairs.
Of course she’s not. I don’t know why I asked. We’ve never had anyone show up at this time of night. Not ever. I take a swig of beer. It’s warm. I watch as the car drives all the way up to the house and pulls in beside my truck.
Well, you better come down here, I call again. Someone’s here.
This reading group guide for Foe includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book
In Iain Reid’s second haunting philosophical puzzle of a novel, set in the near future, Junior and Henrietta 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 alarming 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, Henrietta won't have a chance to miss him, because she won't be left alone—not even for a moment. Henrietta will have company. Familiar company.
Told in Reid’s sharp and evocative style, Foe examines the nature of domestic relationships, self-determination, and what it means to be (or not to be) a person. An eerily entrancing page-turner, it churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Reid chooses to quote Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet in the novel’s epigraph: “One has to be careful what one takes when one goes away forever.” Discuss the significance of this quote in relation to the book.
2. Is the future Foe depicts believable? Why or why not? Would you classify it as a dystopia?
3. Discuss the character of Terrance. What are some ways that the author keeps us guessing about his true nature? Do we feel like we come to know him any better at the novel’s end than we did at the beginning? He repeatedly insists Junior must trust him, but do we ever trust him as readers?
4. Discuss Junior and Hen’s relationship. Even though Junior constantly reiterates his love and devotion to Hen, do you think he truly loves her? Compare Hen’s personality to her actions and speech versus what Junior tells us about her.
5. “When you get significant news, unexpected, shocking, potentially life-altering news, as we did when Terrance arrived, it has a peculiar effect on everything, especially on how you think and order your thoughts” (p. 48). Do you agree? If so, can you think of an example from your own life to share with your book group?
6. Do you agree with Junior’s claim that “you can hold beliefs and not always believe in them”? (p. 57).
7. Terrance claims that being selected for OuterMore’s mission gives you “a chance to be a better version of yourself” (p. 71). Do you think this is accurate? What do you think the true purpose of OuterMore is?
8. Almost the entire book takes place at Junior and Hen’s farm; the mill where Junior works serves as the only other notable setting. What is the effect of this on the reading experience? Discuss the differences between the environment of the mill and the environment of the farm.
9. What do you make of Junior’s reaction to the rhinoceros beetle? What is the significance of the beetles?
10. “Being alone, it’s a tricky thing. It’s good for us, in small doses, but not for a prolonged period. And not when you’re not used to it” (p. 178). Discuss the ways the theme of isolation constantly reappears throughout Foe. In what ways are Junior, Hen, and Terrance isolated—from themselves, their society, and one another?
11. In what he claims to be “engineer humor,” Terrance refers to two of his cameras as “Flotsam” and “Jetsam” (p. 221). Look up the definition of these two words and then discuss in relation to the novel. Could this be a clue into Terrance and OuterMore’s true intentions?
12. Junior says, “I’m an individual. I’m unprecedented and unimaginable. I’m impossible,” (p. 323). Considering what happens between him and Hen, what do you think makes any being “individual”?
13. “I’m a flawed, disgusting person like everyone else. Broken and imperfect. Of course I am. How could I ever think I was any different?” (p. 361). Like Junior, do you think possessing flaws makes an individual more “real”?
14. How does the relationship between Hen and Junior change over the course of the story?
15. Who—or what—do you think is the titular “foe”?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Consider reading Iain Reid’s first novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, with your book club. Do you notice any similar themes or motifs to Foe?
2. The film rights to Foe have been optioned by Anonymous Content, the production company behind the Oscar-winning films Spotlight and The Revenant. Discuss whom you would cast as Hen, Junior, and Terrance.
3. Immerse yourself in the world of Foe—pretend you’re in Junior’s place, and have been selected by OuterMore to go to space. How would you feel about your mission? How would you prepare? What personal qualities and intimate memories would you instill in your replacement? Discuss with your book club.
Iain Reid is the author of two critically acclaimed, award-winning books of nonfiction. His internationally bestselling debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, has been published in more than twenty countries. Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman is writing and directing a film based on the novel, which Reid will co-produce. His second novel, Foe, was an instant bestseller and feature film rights have been acquired by Anonymous Content, with Reid set to executive produce. Follow him on Twitter @Reid_Iain.
“Foe reads like a house on fire, and is almost impossible not to finish in one sitting...an otherworldly hothouse of introversion and fantasy.”
– Toronto Star
“Reid is at it again, exploiting readers with plot twists, narrative unease, and explosive conclusions in his second novel . . . [he] has the rare ability to make readers both uncomfortable and engaged, and this drama will surely send them back to the beginning pages to track the clues he left to the surprise ending.”
– Booklist (starred review)
“Reid is a master storyteller with a knack for absorbing prose. Most of the action takes place in the microcosm of the couple’s house, but Reid writes about the relationship so well that it becomes a universe full of questions and possibilities.”
– Los Angeles Review of Books
“From the opening page, you’ll have an uneasy feeling as you settle in to Iain’s Reid’s brilliant new novel, Foe. . . . A masterful and breathtakingly unique read. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
– Amy Stuart, author of the #1 bestseller Still Mine and Still Water
“Reid draws his suspense from the same places where we find it in our lives: not knowing what's going to happen next, not truly knowing the people we love, and not even really knowing ourselves.”
– Nathan Ripley, author of Find You in the Dark
“I’m not sure that humans have hackles, but something was creeping up my spine as I read this book, and I welcomed the shivers of shock and delight. A mind-bending and genre-defying work of genius.”
– LIZ NUGENT, author of Unraveling Oliver and Lying in Wait
“Reid proves once again that he is a master of atmosphere and suspense. Readers won’t be able to put this one down.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Reid builds to a deeply unsettling climax. As much a surgical dissection of what makes a marriage as an expertly paced, sparsely detailed psychological thriller, this is one to read with the lights on.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“[Foe] is a thought-provoking thriller, the sort of book whose secrets hover just beneath the surface awaiting discovery.”
– Allen Adams, The Maine Edge
"Spare, consuming, unforgettable. Foe is a dark arrow from a truly original mind. Page by eerie page, Iain Reid pulls the known world out from under you, and leaves you trapped inside a marriage’s most haunting question: can I be replaced? This is a book that seeps into your bloodstream––and crowns Iain Reid the king of deadpan, philosophical horror."
– Claudia Dey, author of Heartbreaker
“Foe . . . [is] one of the most unsettling novels of the year.”
– Literary Review of Canada
“A tale of implacably mounting peril that feels all the more terrifying for being told in such a quiet, elegantly stripped-down voice. Iain Reid knows how to do ‘ominous’ as well as anyone I’ve ever read.”
– Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan
“Reid is expert at evoking a sense of dread from the most ordinary objects and experiences. . . . A subtly disturbing horror novel, Foe lets the questions it raises hover, unresolved, in the reader’s mind.”
– Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
Praise for I'm Thinking of Ending Things
“An ingeniously twisted nightmare road trip through the fragile psyches of two young lovers. My kind of fun!”
– Charlie Kaufman, Academy Award winning writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation
“An unnerving exploration of identity, regret and longing. Delightfully frightening.”
– The Globe and Mail
“Generally speaking, there are two types of twists characteristic of the contemporary thriller: the twist the reader doesn’t see coming, and the twist the reader senses, but can’t quite put together on their own. The twist in I’m Thinking of Ending Things is of the latter sort, and powerfully so…. It has the sort of ending that will inspire readers to re-read the novel immediately, to try to figure out just how it was done."
– Toronto Star
“Reid has written a superbly crafted psychological thriller, with forays into the metaphysical, which promises to keep you up at night on both counts.”
“As a reader, it’s impossible to tell if you’re reading a horror story, a love story, or even perhaps a vampire story. This is a genre-twisting novel, and one that is delightfully confusing. It’s smart and it will keep readers guessing until the very end.”
– Vancouver Sun
“The boldest and most original literary thriller to appear in some time. . . . In addition to Cronenberg, the ghost of Stephen King hovers over these pages.”
– Chicago Tribune
“Touching on themes of love, isolation, mental illness and fear, this is a terrifying and totally engrossing psychological thriller.”
– Canadian Living
“An existential whodunit.”
– The Walrus
“Reid fuses suspense with philosophy, psychology, and horror in his unsettling first novel. . . . Capped with an ending that will shock and chill, this twisty tale invites multiple readings.”
– Publishers Weekly, (Starred Review)
“This slim first novel packs a big psychological punch with a twisty story line and an ending that will leave readers breathless.”
– Library Journal, (Starred Review)
“Reid’s tightly crafted tale toys with the nature of identity and comes by its terror honestly, building a wall of intricately layered psychological torment so impenetrable it's impossible to escape.”
– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An addictive metaphysical investigation into the nature of identity, one which seduces and horrifies in equal measure. Reid masterfully explores the perversity of loneliness and somehow also creates a very entertaining thriller. I found myself yelling at the characters to put their feet on the pedal and drive.”
– Heather O'Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals and Daydreams of Angels
“Here are some near-certainties about I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Number One: You’re going to read it fast. Over the course of an afternoon or an evening. The momentum is unstoppable—once you start, you won’t be able to stop. And Two: once you race to the end and understand the significance of those final pages, you won’t be able to stop thinking about I’m Thinking of Ending Things. It will find a spot in your heart and head and it will live there—for days, weeks, months, or (in my case) the rest of your life. Yes. It really is that good.”
– Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter), author of Cataract City and The Deep
"I'm Thinking of Ending Things is haunting me long long after I've read it."
– Larry King, award-winning television and radio host
“I couldn’t put it down. It infected my dreams. A creepy and brilliant book.”
– Zoe Whittall, Giller Prize shortlisted author of The Best Kind of People