Iain Reid’s new literary thriller ‘We Spread’: Just what is going on at the Six Cedars retirement home?

WhatsOn Sep 23, 2022 by Steven W. Beattie Toronto Star

About two-thirds of the way through “We Spread,” the third novel by Ottawa writer Iain Reid, the protagonist, Penny, lays out her theory of art. “(A)s I got older I started thinking that art is about different ways of seeing,” she says. “I was never inspired by something whole. It was always a fragment, a crumb, a piece of a moment, a half-forgotten impression, one side of a person.”

Penny’s explanation does double duty, articulating her own esthetic as a painter and providing a kind of thumbnail description of Reid’s own stylistic approach to his novel.

The story is set mostly in Six Cedars eldercare facility, where a quartet of residents — besides Penny, there are Hilbert, a mathematician; Peter, a violinist; and Ruth, a French-language expert — are tended to by a pair of minders, Shelley and Jack. The two residence administrators are somewhat overly attentive: they take showers with their charges and obsessively cut the older folks’ hair and clip their fingernails. The food is plentiful, though the tea is somewhat sludgelike — only one of many details that begin to accrue to convince Penny that all is not what it appears to be at Six Cedars.

In its basic trajectory, “We Spread” superficially resembles Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” or Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”: paranoia thrillers about regular people who find themselves trapped in a closed environment where they come to suspect the owners harbour nefarious motives toward their guests. But Reid’s literary sensibilities run deeper than this surface presentation and, in “We Spread,” he extends his approach beyond that of his previous novels, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and “Foe.”

Penny is a surrealist, unlike her late husband, who painted landscapes. Her choice of artistic mode is deliberate: Reid sketches his plot using the same kind of fragmentary, disjointed approach favoured by antirealist painters such as Picasso or Klee. This extends to the presentation of the type on the page; paragraphs are separated by single-line spaces and white space abounds, including several discrete sections that comprise only a single sentence floating on an otherwise blank page.

The lacunae and empty space on the page reflect Penny’s psychic experience at Six Cedars: the longer she is there the stranger her surroundings appear to her, and the more she appears to be forgetting. Jack and Shelley are typically patronizing in their explanations of phenomena that seem to Penny inexplicable or sinister; on a thematic level, the overlap between surrealism and the discontinuity of creeping dementia is nicely subtle and understated.

The use of a thriller format also serves to convey Reid’s deeper concerns, which involve a meditation on aging and mortality. What, the novel asks, is the purpose of life if we are all going to die? How far are some people willing to go in an attempt to cheat or defer death? And what if death isn’t, after all, an ontological or metaphysical punishment, but a kind of gift, a balm for a life well lived, and an opportunity to put aside all the pains and travails of a working life and finally rest?

These are heady subjects, but it is to Reid’s credit that the novel never feels lugubrious or preachy. To the contrary, its technical approach — the prose is laid out in short, declarative sentences practically devoid of subordinate clauses or other ornament — flashes by at a pace that becomes ever more breezy as the true nature of Six Cedars and its inhabitants becomes clearer.

The name of the home refers to the lush forest Penny can see outside her window but is prohibited from experiencing directly, since residents are not allowed to go outside. Penny’s inability to divine the contours of the forest outside her window is reflected in a jigsaw puzzle of the landscape she and Hilbert work on together — more fragments, more subtle commentary on the nature of an individual life in the context of a community, and what it means when those fragments finally fit together into a coherent whole.

Steven W. Beattie runs the literary website That Shakespearean Rag

Iain Reid’s new literary thriller ‘We Spread’: Just what is going on at the Six Cedars retirement home?

Canadian writer Reid uses the thriller format to convey his deeper concerns, which involve a meditation on aging and mortality.

WhatsOn Sep 23, 2022 by Steven W. Beattie Toronto Star

About two-thirds of the way through “We Spread,” the third novel by Ottawa writer Iain Reid, the protagonist, Penny, lays out her theory of art. “(A)s I got older I started thinking that art is about different ways of seeing,” she says. “I was never inspired by something whole. It was always a fragment, a crumb, a piece of a moment, a half-forgotten impression, one side of a person.”

Penny’s explanation does double duty, articulating her own esthetic as a painter and providing a kind of thumbnail description of Reid’s own stylistic approach to his novel.

The story is set mostly in Six Cedars eldercare facility, where a quartet of residents — besides Penny, there are Hilbert, a mathematician; Peter, a violinist; and Ruth, a French-language expert — are tended to by a pair of minders, Shelley and Jack. The two residence administrators are somewhat overly attentive: they take showers with their charges and obsessively cut the older folks’ hair and clip their fingernails. The food is plentiful, though the tea is somewhat sludgelike — only one of many details that begin to accrue to convince Penny that all is not what it appears to be at Six Cedars.

In its basic trajectory, “We Spread” superficially resembles Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” or Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”: paranoia thrillers about regular people who find themselves trapped in a closed environment where they come to suspect the owners harbour nefarious motives toward their guests. But Reid’s literary sensibilities run deeper than this surface presentation and, in “We Spread,” he extends his approach beyond that of his previous novels, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and “Foe.”

Penny is a surrealist, unlike her late husband, who painted landscapes. Her choice of artistic mode is deliberate: Reid sketches his plot using the same kind of fragmentary, disjointed approach favoured by antirealist painters such as Picasso or Klee. This extends to the presentation of the type on the page; paragraphs are separated by single-line spaces and white space abounds, including several discrete sections that comprise only a single sentence floating on an otherwise blank page.

The lacunae and empty space on the page reflect Penny’s psychic experience at Six Cedars: the longer she is there the stranger her surroundings appear to her, and the more she appears to be forgetting. Jack and Shelley are typically patronizing in their explanations of phenomena that seem to Penny inexplicable or sinister; on a thematic level, the overlap between surrealism and the discontinuity of creeping dementia is nicely subtle and understated.

The use of a thriller format also serves to convey Reid’s deeper concerns, which involve a meditation on aging and mortality. What, the novel asks, is the purpose of life if we are all going to die? How far are some people willing to go in an attempt to cheat or defer death? And what if death isn’t, after all, an ontological or metaphysical punishment, but a kind of gift, a balm for a life well lived, and an opportunity to put aside all the pains and travails of a working life and finally rest?

These are heady subjects, but it is to Reid’s credit that the novel never feels lugubrious or preachy. To the contrary, its technical approach — the prose is laid out in short, declarative sentences practically devoid of subordinate clauses or other ornament — flashes by at a pace that becomes ever more breezy as the true nature of Six Cedars and its inhabitants becomes clearer.

The name of the home refers to the lush forest Penny can see outside her window but is prohibited from experiencing directly, since residents are not allowed to go outside. Penny’s inability to divine the contours of the forest outside her window is reflected in a jigsaw puzzle of the landscape she and Hilbert work on together — more fragments, more subtle commentary on the nature of an individual life in the context of a community, and what it means when those fragments finally fit together into a coherent whole.

Steven W. Beattie runs the literary website That Shakespearean Rag

Iain Reid’s new literary thriller ‘We Spread’: Just what is going on at the Six Cedars retirement home?

Canadian writer Reid uses the thriller format to convey his deeper concerns, which involve a meditation on aging and mortality.

WhatsOn Sep 23, 2022 by Steven W. Beattie Toronto Star

About two-thirds of the way through “We Spread,” the third novel by Ottawa writer Iain Reid, the protagonist, Penny, lays out her theory of art. “(A)s I got older I started thinking that art is about different ways of seeing,” she says. “I was never inspired by something whole. It was always a fragment, a crumb, a piece of a moment, a half-forgotten impression, one side of a person.”

Penny’s explanation does double duty, articulating her own esthetic as a painter and providing a kind of thumbnail description of Reid’s own stylistic approach to his novel.

The story is set mostly in Six Cedars eldercare facility, where a quartet of residents — besides Penny, there are Hilbert, a mathematician; Peter, a violinist; and Ruth, a French-language expert — are tended to by a pair of minders, Shelley and Jack. The two residence administrators are somewhat overly attentive: they take showers with their charges and obsessively cut the older folks’ hair and clip their fingernails. The food is plentiful, though the tea is somewhat sludgelike — only one of many details that begin to accrue to convince Penny that all is not what it appears to be at Six Cedars.

In its basic trajectory, “We Spread” superficially resembles Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” or Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”: paranoia thrillers about regular people who find themselves trapped in a closed environment where they come to suspect the owners harbour nefarious motives toward their guests. But Reid’s literary sensibilities run deeper than this surface presentation and, in “We Spread,” he extends his approach beyond that of his previous novels, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and “Foe.”

Penny is a surrealist, unlike her late husband, who painted landscapes. Her choice of artistic mode is deliberate: Reid sketches his plot using the same kind of fragmentary, disjointed approach favoured by antirealist painters such as Picasso or Klee. This extends to the presentation of the type on the page; paragraphs are separated by single-line spaces and white space abounds, including several discrete sections that comprise only a single sentence floating on an otherwise blank page.

The lacunae and empty space on the page reflect Penny’s psychic experience at Six Cedars: the longer she is there the stranger her surroundings appear to her, and the more she appears to be forgetting. Jack and Shelley are typically patronizing in their explanations of phenomena that seem to Penny inexplicable or sinister; on a thematic level, the overlap between surrealism and the discontinuity of creeping dementia is nicely subtle and understated.

The use of a thriller format also serves to convey Reid’s deeper concerns, which involve a meditation on aging and mortality. What, the novel asks, is the purpose of life if we are all going to die? How far are some people willing to go in an attempt to cheat or defer death? And what if death isn’t, after all, an ontological or metaphysical punishment, but a kind of gift, a balm for a life well lived, and an opportunity to put aside all the pains and travails of a working life and finally rest?

These are heady subjects, but it is to Reid’s credit that the novel never feels lugubrious or preachy. To the contrary, its technical approach — the prose is laid out in short, declarative sentences practically devoid of subordinate clauses or other ornament — flashes by at a pace that becomes ever more breezy as the true nature of Six Cedars and its inhabitants becomes clearer.

The name of the home refers to the lush forest Penny can see outside her window but is prohibited from experiencing directly, since residents are not allowed to go outside. Penny’s inability to divine the contours of the forest outside her window is reflected in a jigsaw puzzle of the landscape she and Hilbert work on together — more fragments, more subtle commentary on the nature of an individual life in the context of a community, and what it means when those fragments finally fit together into a coherent whole.

Steven W. Beattie runs the literary website That Shakespearean Rag