Book: “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay
Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: A friend let me borrow it!
Book Description: The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.
Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.
One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”
Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.
Review: Paul Tremblay, you fucked me up again.
I knew that this was going to happen, because he has done this twice before. First with “A Head Full of Ghosts”, a book about a family dealing with a teenage girl’s possible possession, and then with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, a book about a family dealing with a boy’s disappearance. Now he came for me and his readers with “The Cabin at the End of the World”, a book about a family dealing with the threat of a home invasion and an impossible choice they may have to make. As you can see, Paul Tremblay likes to put families through the ringer, and that makes his books not only all the more scary, but it also makes them deeply emotional reads with characters whose pain you feel in the very pits of your stomach. The emotional connection to the characters is one of the things that sets Tremblay above many other horror authors today, and has him up there with Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Caroline Kepnes when it comes to horror and thriller fiction. CLAIM YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE OF AGONY, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD.
This time our family is comprised of Wen and her fathers Eric and Andrew. Wen is an eight year old trans-racial adoptee who is generally happy with her two dads, but has a nagging identity crisis that she can’t quite shake. Eric is an anxious person who has a healthy but somewhat hidden Catholic Faith, and he loves his husband and daughter even though he’s always worrying about her. Andrew is the more easy going of the pair, though a past trauma is always in the back of his mind even as he tries to be as pragmatic and logical as possible. So when they are cornered by a doomsday cult during their cabin weekend, a group of people who all came together by shared visions of the end of the world, they are suddenly forced into a dangerous situation that none of them are at all equipped for. The intruders believe that to prevent the end of days, this family needs to sacrifice one of it’s own. Eric, Andrew, and Wen are all complex characters who make realistic decisions based on who they are as people, from an eight year old child to a man consumed by nerves to a man trying to keep complete zen control of himself. I liked that while we didn’t see much interaction in the present outside of the home invasion, we are told through flashbacks and little hints and interactions just how much they mean to each other. I also appreciated that Tremblay did address the complex intricacies for families with transracial adoptees. While Eric and Andrew definitely do their very best to help Wen connect to her heritage (as she was adopted from China), there are still hints and references to her feeling out of place in her surroundings. It’s a narrative that isn’t seen much in adoption stories, and it was refreshing to show her multilayered feelings on her adoption and life with Eric and Andrew. Eric and Andrew were also well explored in their relationship and their own anxieties about parenting and living as gay men in a world where there is still stigma, no matter how much progress has been made. It was especially interesting exploring Andrew, who encourages Eric to be more relaxed but is still affected by a hate crime that was committed against him years before.
And the antagonistic group itself has some depth and complexity. Leonard, the leader of the doomsday group, takes no joy in the task he thinks he is sent to do. You can tell that he is pained by his ‘mission’, but he is also blinded by his own zealotry and it means that he can’t see the pain that he is causing. There is certainly an ambiguity there with him and his followers/fellow members; Tremblay makes sure to leave a lot of ambiguity about whether the world is actually coming to an end or not, and lets the reader decide if the signs that Leonard is seeing are real, or just coincidences as Andrew believes. But in the same token, it’s hard to know what the greater horror would be: that the end of the world may be coming, and only a terrible sacrifice can stop it…. Or that Leonard and his followers are just out of their minds, and that all of the suffering and torment that falls upon Eric, Andrew, and Wen is just for nothing. The story line and plot is tense as hell, and it wound me up as each new development happened. The brutality that Leonard and his group brings is unrelenting, but never feels tasteless of exploitative. You can see the motivations and fears on both sides, and as some characters begin to question what they are believing on both sides, the reader also begins to wonder just what is real and what is not. I loved that. Even if it messed me up. Don’t go into this book looking for straight up answers and conclusions: it is more a meditation on faith, family, and zealotry than your run of the mill end of the world tale. And I closed the book and just had to stare at the ceiling for a bit.
Paul Tremblay is one of our best horror writers out there because he can find the horror in the extreme, and the horror in the all too ordinary. He taps into fears of loss and injustice, and the unknown, and his words will linger with you long after you close the book. He can terrify and devastate you, and if you are anything like me you will look forward to it every single time. “The Cabin at the End of the World” was well worth the wait.
Rating 9: Paul Tremblay has created another disturbing and heart wrenching tale of family, faith, paranoia, and love that scared me and made me cry. “The Cabin at the End of the World” is another winner from a horror maestro.
Find “The Cabin at the End of the World” at your library using WorldCat!