BOOK REVIEW: The Cabin At The End Of The World by Paul Tremblay

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There is a cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s rustic, has a large front yard, and a nice back porch with a lovely view of the lake beyond. At this cabin we find Eric and Andrew, a lovely married couple, and their adopted daughter, Wen, enjoying a nice relaxing vacation. Seems like a peaceful time, right? But, this is Cabin at the End of the World, so we know there is going to be some trouble. Cue the four people with a mission to stop the end of the world. And let me tell you, it’s totally an easy mission: convince the family they need to sacrifice one of themselves to save humanity. With this setup, Paul Tremblay builds a tense what-would-you-do story that never lets up.

I loved this book. It ramps up the stress level and doesn’t let you rest until you get to the end. We are constantly asking ourselves how would we act in this situation? Is one life worth more than the rest of the world? I can say I vacillated between them letting the world end or them killing someone in their little family. Which I think is all part of the magic Tremblay weaves, making you question the somewhat obvious solution of the four being crazy and their doomsday is not going to happen. Then, the further along in the book you get, and the more stuff you witness, the more you start questioning yourself. Which cycles you back to your thoughts of “what would you do?”.

To get its barbs into you and have you hoping for the best, Tremblay introduces us to the heart of the story: Wen. We meet her outside collecting grasshoppers. We discover quickly that she is an intelligent girl. I instantly found myself wishing I could be in the yard helping her catch insects, or better yet, saving her when things start taking a turn for the worse.

Wen is the first one to meet the “villains.” Leonard, a giant of a man, tries to be her friend and use her to get inside the cabin. At first, she is wary, but is happy to have some help her collect specimens. However, once his three friends show up, carrying wicked looking weapons, she quickly learns she can’t trust him. Through Wen we get the childlike view of good and evil, of speaking the truth, and how even in the middle of the most terrible of deeds someone is always looking out for the child. I did whisper a curse or two at Tremblay for putting Wen into this predicament.

Wen’s parents are the brain of the story. Eric and Andrew came across as a sweet fun couple. Which makes it difficult to watch as they are subjected to the constant assault and decision of saving the world or watching as humanity dies. The majority of the book is dedicated to these two facing off with the attackers and trying their hardest to get out of the cabin with Wen. Each chapter ratchets up the tension put on them, until we find ourselves having a hard time going through it. Nothing is overtly violent, instead it is a mental game of who is going to break first: Eric, Andrew, or the kidnappers? This game will definitely keep you up and wanting to read just a little longer.

Tremblay breaks the chapters up into individual points of view, allowing us to not only see the events from different perspectives, but also get into all of their heads. Eric and Andrew try to think of ways to escape, how to convince the attackers they are wrong, or determine if their partner is thinking the same thing they are. And this stress isn’t just for the family, we eventually move to the attackers’ points of view and see that they might be facing similar crises of faith. It’s a great way to mix us all up and have us wondering who is actually losing in this cabin.

There is something haunting about how Tremblay makes the attackers sympathetic. The entire time they are in the cabin they are apologizing and trying to do everything to make their victims comfortable. They don’t want to be there, they don’t want to force this couple to have to kill, but they also don’t want the world to end. For them, the decision is made and they can’t stop until the mission is complete. Tremblay paints them in such human detail that by the end you will feel as bad for them as you do for Eric, Andrew, and Wen.

I do have some gripes with the book, I can’t be all sunshine and roses about this. The last section of the book drags. It’s been a non-stop race and then we hit a wall with the last twenty or so pages. It does build suspense, but some much unneeded detail is thrown in to stave off the ending that it just feels slow compared to the rest of the book. I also started to dislike Andrew near the end. He begins to act like a dick and treat the attackers as bad as he felt they were treating him. They try to repent, but Andrew shows no compassion. It makes it really hard to root for him as we go along in the story.

Tremblay has given us his best book yet, a book that will definitely be on a lot of “best of the year” lists. And despite my hang ups, I totally believe it deserves to be in that category. It seriously forced me to stop and read something else at different points because I was stressing out. Find this book at your bookstore, buy it, read it, then wonder what you’d do in this situation. I’m guessing the answer won’t be as easy as you think by the time you finish.

The Cabin At The End Of The World is published by Titan Books and is available here.


Paul Tremblay


Paul Tremblay has won the Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, and Massachusetts Book awards and is the author of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Little Sleep. He is currently a member of the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment, and numerous year’s-best anthologies. He has a master’s degree in mathematics and lives outside Boston with his family.

Reviewed by Matthew Brandenburg

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