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About The Book


“Highly accomplished and fascinating” (The Globe and Mail), “insidious, unsettling” (The Guardian)—critically acclaimed novelist Iain Reid follows an elderly woman into a mysterious care home during the later stages of her life.

Penny, an artist, has lived in the same apartment for decades, surrounded by the artifacts and keepsakes of her long life. She is resigned to the mundane rituals of old age, until things start to slip. Before her longtime partner passed away years earlier, provisions were made for a room in a unique long-term care residence, where Penny finds herself after one too many “incidents.”

Initially, surrounded by peers, conversing, eating, sleeping, looking out at the beautiful woods that surround the house, all is well. She even begins to paint again. But as the days start to blur together, Penny—with a growing sense of unrest and distrust—starts to lose her grip on the passage of time and on her place in the world. Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?

At once compassionate and uncanny, told in spare, hypnotic prose, Iain Reid’s “exquisite novel of psychological suspense” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) explores questions of conformity, art, productivity, relationships, and what, ultimately, it means to grow old.


Chapter 1
He was an artist. A prolific painter of merit and distinction. He impressed with his boldness and ingenuity. He liked to shock and bewilder. He refined this aesthetic of orderly, exaggerated confusion over many years. He gained admirers, patrons, imitators. “Parrots” is what he called the younger artists he felt were trying to replicate his flair. One reviewer wrote about feeling “emotionally mauled” by his work. All the time I knew him, he never wavered from his claim that his only obsession was producing more work and never burning out or fading away.

He received fan mail at our apartment—cards and letters would arrive from all over the country, even from Europe. Sometimes they would simply be addressed to the Artist, which made him roll his eyes in mock humility. He was discussed and interpreted by students. He would give guest lectures where those in attendance would ask him to clarify and expand on his work and to share any advice he could with aspiring artists. He was not famous the way a musician or actor is. But in a particular niche of surrealist devotees, he was revered and celebrated.

But none of them knew him the way I did. I knew him in the most intimate ways one person can know another. I knew him in a way no one else did, not his fans or friends or family. I knew him, I believe, as he knew himself.

Over our many years together I bore witness to the invisible anatomy that formed his identity. They thought he was immune to trends, to fitting in. He was not. He required a commonwealth of reaction and sought acceptance. He was loud in everything he did.

Some realizations about those closest to us arrive in a flash. Other insights take decades to form. My partner’s work conveyed something spiritual, but he was so human after all, mortal, a man who, like so many others, grew less interested, less curious, less attentive over time. It was both endearing and disappointing. He was, I came to see, more than anything, a conformist.

We weren’t miserable together. We fought like any couple, especially when we were young. But in later years we would quarrel over nonsense like what temperature to set the thermostat. Some evenings during our first years together, we would drink white wine and speak broken French to each other. Even if we didn’t completely understand it, we loved the sound of the language.

As we grew older, we spent more time apart, even when we were both home in the apartment. He despised aging and didn’t trust his crumbling body. The love I’d felt for him faded and detached. There was nothing to hold it in place. No more mystery. Nothing to learn. Wonder was replaced with awareness. By the end, it wasn’t just familiarity. I had a total and complete understanding of him.

He used to say I was moody and too sympathetic for my own good. He said I avoided confrontation and that he’d spent years trying to make me less anxious, less meek and mild, and that I was always in some kind of inner revolt. He worried about trivialities just as much as I did. The difference was, unlike me, he could hide it.

Before he died, when he was very sick, he told me how frightened he was. He was terrified of becoming obsolete and forgotten. He’d never admitted being scared before that. Never. He said when you’re so close to death, when it’s right there, the depth of fear is enormous. He didn’t want to die. He desperately wanted more time. He said he had so much more he wanted to do. He said he was scared for me, too, scared that I would have to go through the end of life alone.

He was right about that. I am near the end now, and I am alone. Very old and very much alone. I have been both for some time, surrounded by the listless stacks and heavy piles of a life already lived: vinyl records, empty flowerpots, clothing, dishes, photo albums, magazines about art, drawings, letters from friends, the library of paperback books lining my shelves. It’s no wonder I’m stuck in the past, thinking about him, our days together, how our relationship started, and how it ended. I feel enveloped by the past. I’ve lived here in the same apartment for more than fifty years. The man I moved here with, the man I spent more time with over my life than anyone else, would tell me in private moments, right here in the apartment, while lying in our bed, that my being too sensitive would be my demise.

“You were the sensitive one,” I say now, to the empty room. “You were the fearful one.”

I’m not left with anger or resentment or pity. It’s an anticlimax—a mourning for my own naive belief.

I look around my living room.

There are piles of notebooks and sketch pads, drawings and photographs. The first piece of art I ever owned is buried in here somewhere. A gift from my father. It’s a tiny framed print of the tree of life that’s small enough to fit one hand. I never hung it because I didn’t want anyone else to see it.

There are two bookshelves full of paperbacks. I’m losing my attention span; it’s hard to read novels now, or books of any kind. I used to read a book or two a week. Literary fiction, historical novels, comedies. I devoured books on science and nature.

There is a box under the coffee table full of small, ceramic sculptures. I made them in my midtwenties. I have all these records, but I don’t listen to music anymore.

At one time, it wasn’t just stuff. It all meant so much to me. All of it. Marrow that has turned to fat.

About The Author

Photograph by AJR

Iain Reid is the author of four previous books, including his New York Times bestselling debut novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which has been translated into more than twenty languages. Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed the film adaptation for Netflix. His second novel, Foe, is being adapted for film, starring Saoirse Ronan, with Reid cowriting the screenplay. His latest novel is We Spread. Reid lives in Ontario, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @Reid_Iain.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 5, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982165079

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Raves and Reviews

“Pure storytelling magic. Suspenseful, philosophically rich, and fully audacious in both setting and voice, it is a psychological thriller that enthralls through distinctly lucid and propulsive prose. Iain Reid once again most powerfully illuminates the mysteries of art, life, and consciousness.”
DAVID CHARIANDY, award-winning author of Brother

“I loved this book and couldn’t put it down—a deeply gripping, surreal, and wonderfully mysterious novel. Not only has Reid given us a brilliant page-turner, but a profoundly moving meditation on life and art, death and infinity. Reid is a master.”
MONA AWAD, author of Bunny and All’s Well

“A taut and frightening read, perhaps best called a thriller. But the true thrill is in how so slender a book tackles such big questions—What does it mean to make art? What happens as we near death?—with such grace.”
RUMAAN ALAM, author of Leave the World Behind

“[An] exquisite novel of psychological suspense . . . [Leaves] readers contemplating their own mortality and primed to see the sinister behind the mundane . . . This deep plunge into fears about growing old and losing control is unforgettable.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“A powerful evocation of aging and loss. . . . Genuinely affecting. It’s a powerful approach to storytelling, and a courageous one: to commit to ambiguity requires a leap of faith on the part of the reader, and trust in the writer. In We Spread, Reid demonstrates once again that such trust isn’t misplaced.”
Quill & Quire (Starred Review)

“Iain Reid does a masterful job at an unreliable narrator and keeps us off balance throughout this highly accomplished and fascinating novel.”
The Globe and Mail

“[We Spread] flashes by at a pace that becomes ever more breezy as the true nature of Six Cedars and its inhabitants becomes clearer.”
Toronto Star

“Reid combines magnetic character development with clipped, eerie prose in this masterfully crafted psychological thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the very last word on the final page.”

“Insidious, unsettling, creepy, tense—they’re all words that can describe this genre-defying novel. At its heart, We Spread asks the question, ‘What happens to our minds when we approach death?’ . . . We’re exposed to the uncomfortably raw experience of facing the fears we all share when contemplating the end of life.”
Canadian Living

“Simply hypnotic. This novel works by a fine hat trick of genre-twisting subtlety, chilling suspense, and a bone-close two-fold portrait of aging in a world that devours everything. The book surprises, even betrays, and every second of its rich rewards is earned by Iain Reid’s winning, wise restraint. Read it to be caught in this brilliantly inspired vision of art and life. I am glad I did.”
CANISIA LUBRIN, Griffin Poetry Prize–winning author of The Dyzgraphxst

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