"The Cabin at the End of the World" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by William Morrow
Written by Paul Tremblay
2018, 288 pages, Fiction
Released on June 26th, 2018
If you read a dozen reviews of Paul Tremblay’s latest, The Cabin at the End of the World, you’ll quickly learn the basics: it’s a superb horror thriller about a home invasion that has a touch of cosmic horror thrown in and tension to spare. However, none of the reviews I’ve encountered talk about one of the most important elements of Tremblay’s latest effort in relation to his two previous novels, A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Simply put, this novel cements Tremblay as the absolute king of uncertainty in horror fiction and proves he’s a word wizard capable of taking any premise and turning it into an edge-of-your-seat/superbly entertaining/oh-fuck-what’s-going-on-here experience through literary alchemy.
Seven-year-old Wen and is having a great afternoon catching grasshoppers while her two daddies, Eric and Andrew, relax in a cabin nearby. The family is vacationing on the remote cabin near a lake in New Hampshire, but their mellowness is about to come to an abrupt end. Wen knows she shouldn’t talk to strangers, but when a man shows up and starts talking to her in an amicable manner, she struggles to stick to the rule her parents have repeated so often. The individual, whose name is Leonard, is a big man who would probably scare Wen under any other context, but he is very friendly and seems to care a lot about becoming her friend and helping her catch some more grasshoppers. The girl is debating with herself about what to do about the now not-so-stranger when three more people show up, all carrying bizarre, intimidating weapons. Wen runs to the cabin to warn her parents, and the strangers follow. They want to get into the cabin and talk to them. They insist on it, saying what they have to discuss is incredibly important. When Eric and Andrew refuse to let them in, the situation escalates. What follows is a gripping narrative that starts as a peculiar home invasion and quickly morphs into a fast-paced tale of sacrifice, fear, emotional torment, and a too-real promise of impending apocalypse.
The first thing that should be said about The Cabin at the End of the World is that tension is an element that shows up early and remains until the last page. The unrelenting anxiety coming from all parties involved in the narrative is contagious, and that makes this one of those books that is incredibly hard to put down because the reader simply has to know what happens next. Furthermore, and this is something that is also present in the author’s two previous novels, the emotional angle is treated in a way that makes it work as a magnifying glass for the fear, sadness, and violence because readers are forced to filter all of it through the presence of a innocent child:
She makes a deal with this killer-god of Leonard’s, a god she doesn’t believe is real but is very much frightened of. She has this image of his god as all the black empty space between stars when you look up at the night sky, and this god of collected blankness is big enough to swallow the moon, the earth, the sun, the Milky Way, and big enough it couldn’t possibly care about anyone or anything. Still, she asks this god if she and her parents can please leave the cabin, can they please go home and be safe, and if it lets them, she promises she won’t ever again complain about sleeping in the dark with the lights off ever again.
It’s difficult to discuss The Cabin at the End of the World because so much happens so fast, but there are elements than can be mentioned without giving away much. For example, this is a violent novel. Horror is often violent, but often as part of something you can see coming a mile away. In this book, the first explosion of violence happens so quickly and unexpectedly that readers will still be digesting it by the time the second one comes along, and it doesn’t stop there. Also, there is something happening here that speaks volumes about Tremblay’s talent and adds to the claustrophobic, tense atmosphere: almost the entire narrative takes place within the microcosm of the cabin. In close quarters, everything is amplified, everything is seen and felt better, and that means everything is more brutal, undeniable, and immediate. The author knew this, and he achieved a wonderful balance between brutality and writing that dips its toes into literary fiction, which makes the violence even more memorable:
Redmond in the supplicant’s eternal pose, awash in golden light, is transformed. The red of his shirt is no longer confined to the cloth and slicks into the air like oil in water. Red mists beyond the boundary of Redmond, forming an aura, as amorphous as a storm. There’s a darker spot of red clinging stubbornly to his white mask, a different kind of promise; all will be red eventually.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, not enough is being said about the way Tremblay can keep you guessing until the very end. To do it once could be a fluke. To do it twice could be the result of a lot of hard work. To pull it off brilliantly three times in a row is a sign that the author is fully in control of every element of the narrative and that is comfortable working in that shifting interstitial space between reality and (im)possibility. The Cabin at the End of the World promises an apocalypse, but ends up delivering fragments of one on a personal and universal level. That makes this a must-read for fans of great horror fiction. It also makes it one of those rare novels that stick around in your brain for months. Go read it before it’s too late. Wait…someone’s knocking at your door…