Horror fiction has always been one of my favorite genres, particularly because there are so many different ways it can play with your mind and emotions. For instance, it could be a story that plays for more shock value, bordering on the ridiculous. Watch any slasher film from the 80’s for some great examples. However, my favorite brand of horror is when the threats are more firmly rooted in reality. One of my all-time favorite examples of this would have to be Stephen King’s Misery. While the master of horror has done his fair share of otherworldly monsters, Misery is the story of a man held captive by a psychotic fan who has trapped the protagonist within her house, making it a terrifying journey from beginning to end. A Cabin at the End of the World manages to also accomplish this feat, and if a novel is going to give me nightmares, it would be this one. This is the second book I’ve read by Paul Tremblay, the first being A Head Full of Ghosts, a brilliant work inspired by paranormal fiction, such as The Exorcist. As much as I enjoyed it, I feel like I loved this novel just a bit more. Just as Tremblay reinvented the exorcism story, here he has put a unique twist on a story of home invasion. Ultimately, this is a book that focuses on two possible outcomes, both of which are absolutely horrifying.
Seven-year old Wen and her adoptive parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin in the middle of the New England woods. The nearest neighbor is miles away, and Wen is spending her day catching grasshoppers for observation. As Wen conducts her study, a strange man unexpectantly appears seemingly from the middle of nowhere. While Leonard is the largest individual young Wen has ever seen, he appears friendly and wins her over by helping her in the pursuit of catching the grasshoppers. Leonard and Wen talk and play, until suddenly, he tells her that three of his friends will be there soon and that it is paramount that Wen and her dads let Leonard and his friends into their cabin. Three more strangers arrive, carrying what appear to be strange, makeshift weapons. As Wen rushes 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.” Naturally, the family refuses the strangers entry, believing this to be a hate crime. The four strangers manage to overpower Wen’s parents, and soon the family finds themselves tied up and at their mercy. Leonard then begins to explain to them that he and his friends have been chosen to stop the apocalypse, and the only way to stop it is for the family to voluntarily sacrifice one of their own.
It pains me not to explore every method that Tremblay uses in having me question what is real. The obvious answer is that these four individuals are insane, playing on cult mentality. Every single event that happens throughout the novel can be scrutinized, explained away. Tremblay’s genius lies in the fact that he meticulously builds a story that feeds into paranoia and disbelief until events reach a breaking point. The characters in this book all have depth and complexity. Leonard, the leader of this group, takes no pleasure in the task he has been appointed to perform. His “mission” is one of pain, driven blind by his own zealotry. While he feels compassion for this family, whom he has asked to make a difficult choice to prevent the apocalypse, his mission is paramount above all. Convincing arguments are made on both sides, and there are moments when Leonard is clearly struggling. Tremblay leaves a lot of room to question whether these signs that the end is coming are real, or whether as Andrew argues, they are mere coincidences.
What makes this novel a true work of horror is that the two possible outcomes are both terrible. If the doomsday group is wrong, then that means all of the suffering of this family is for nothing. However, if there’s even the smallest chance that the world is coming to an end without a sacrifice, then that thought is pretty terrifying as well. As the novel progresses, doubts begin to enter into each side’s beliefs. Eric, who sustained a concussion early in the novel and who has had childhood struggles with his own Catholic upbringing, begins to question if Leonard and his group are right. Several shocking moments occur in this novel, and ultimately, you realize this isn’t a story about which side is right. This is a story about the choices we make when we are unsure of the outcome.
You may have heard of this book through its film adaptation, as M. Night Shyamalan has recently adapted it for film. I’m curious to see what changes take place with the story and whether or not I will enjoy it as much. My instincts tell me that the original source material makes for the better experience. Paul Tremblay continues to impress, and believe me, Cabin at the End of the World is an addicting read that will fuel your nightmares.
One thought on “‘The Cabin at the End of the World’ by Paul Tremblay Gave Me Nightmares”
How can that lovely smiley man write books to give nightmares?! I’m afraid I couldn’t read all of your review for fear of being too scared. Great opening paragraph though!