Paul Tremblay: The Cabin At The End Of The World
Reviewed by Brian Bogart
Paul Tremblay gained notoriety with his unique take on possession A Head Full of Ghosts, which I absolutely loved. His next novel, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, was also effective. But, much like its closest movie distant cousin/comparison, Lake Mungo- it was a hit with some readers and a miss with others. With each novel, he takes a common horror or thriller trope and tries to slant it with a fresher-feeling coat of paint.
How does the coat of paint hold up on his newest? Put on your nicest button-up shirt and grab a sharp weapon (modified from garden tools) of your own to find out.
Better yet, it would probably be safer to just read the review…
We open with Wen, the adopted daughter of two loving fathers, Eric and Andrew, innocently catching grasshoppers in front of their secluded cabin. The beginning is written wonderfully, capturing the mindset of the little girl. She is befriended by a large and seemingly gentle man named Leonard, who spends a short amount of time trying to gain her trust, reassuring her- before dropping a bombshell on her:
“Your dads won’t let us in, Wen. But they have to. Tell them they have to. We are not here to hurt you. We need your help to save the world. Please.”
That’s not a spoiler. That’s the catalyst for the claustrophobic vacuum this family will be thrown into. Leonard and his three accompanying cohorts force their way into their home, begging them to cooperate. Two men and two women. While reading, if you find yourself pondering if they represent the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse- you’re not alone.
The four claim that unless one of the family sacrifices one of their own, the world will begin to end. As time passes in the cabin, we are presented with shifting POVs of the characters as they struggle with not just their lives being in danger, but also whether or not their intruders are religious nutjobs.
Eric, as the story amps up, begins to believe them. Certain scenes bring evidence to support their “vision” and “duty”. Andrew is more of a skeptic, letting anger fuel his unwillingness to believe anything, save the fact that his family is in danger.
Oh, and what happens if they don’t sacrifice one of themselves? Not much. Just some extremely drawn out and well-written scenes of ritualistic bloodshed. You see, if they don’t- then it is up to the “chosen” four to sacrifice one of their own four as penance and persuade them to make the choice again.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
A bartender, a nurse, a line cook, and a roughneck somewhat politely break into a cabin. They plead with the owners to make the ultimate sacrifice. What’s the punchline?
It’s not the beginning of a joke, but a theological and gut-wrenching exercise in perception and accompanying brutal violence. The actual violence doesn’t take up a large portion of the book, but when it happens- it’s beautiful. Descriptive and unflinching, possibly because that isn’t the focus of the horror between the pages. It’s the characters bearing witness to such depravity and the visitors themselves so willingly able to do “what must be done” that spurs this novel along. They struggle with it themselves, their own faith and belief as the world begins to end.
Or does it?
I give this book high points for the writing and concept, but that last question is what may divide some readers. Paul likes to play with ambiguity a lot in this tale, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.
If a writer playing in that kind of wheelhouse doesn’t bring you to your knees, begging and pleading, as a cloth mask is pulled over your head and the weapon is steadied for a killing blow (maybe even stretched over three bloody pages)… You’ll enjoy it. It will stick in your skull and fill you with uneasiness, especially if you find children and families in danger jarring.
If you’re the type who finds ambiguity frustrating, you may come away welcoming the end of the world, or at least, this novel.
Star Rating (out of 5): 4****
“A tremendous book―thought-provoking and terrifying, with tension that winds up like a chain. The Cabin at the End of the World is Tremblay’s personal best. It’s that good.” — Stephen King
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.
Brian Bogart is an American author of dark fiction and horror/fantasy. He has written stories most of his life and has been a fan of the genre since the age of seven. His approach to storytelling is a tad macabre at times but tries to capture the nuances of the humanity and sometimes, inhumanity, beneath the surface. He supports the horror community with bloodied open arms and demonic vigor.
Dream Darkly and Keep Writing.
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