Paul Tremblay is something of an anomaly in horror; he’s one of the few authors likened to Stephen King that can credibly enjoy the mantle.
My first dalliance with Tremblay was his novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, an enjoyable jump into the macabre world of missing children and the supernatural dangers that may lurk online. It was a great, gripping read. Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World makes it look like a drunkenly scrawled phone number on a vodka soaked bar napkin. It. Will. Blow. Your. Mind.
Or it won’t, but it blew mine, so I hope it would do so for you.
It wasn’t just that two gay fathers were seamlessly introduced as protagonists with such little fanfare as to be considered the norm (a truly massive win for any book!), nor that Tremblay wrote such a claustrophobic yet far-reaching story in a few hundred pages.
It was instead the indescribable fear this novel placed in my heart as he forced me to consider killing a member of my own family to save the world or dying with my familial unit intact, damned be humanity!
Synopsis of Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World
Here is a synopsis. And it will be brief, because this is one of the novels that I think best encapsulates the oft used phrase “Go in Blind.”
Andrew and Eric take their daughter, Wen, to their cabin in New Hampshire. Within hours Wen, while playing with a grasshopper outside (and this will genuinely break your heart by the novel’s end) see’s four strangers approach the cabin. Leonard, the de facto leader of the strangers, tells Wen that Daddy Andrew and Daddy Eric need to let the strangers in so they can all have a quick chat.
What happens next is a home-invasion, apocalyptic, and frighteningly touching horror story.
The four strangers claim that this family must willingly sacrifice one of their own in order to save the world.
My TCATEOTW Theory
Sacrifice in horror is part and parcel of the genre. I mean the Saw franchise alone evidences this. But what Tremblay does here with such deftness as to be worth of a Chef’s Kiss is articulate this terrible choice in a way that hasn’t been done since Sophie’s Choice.
Now, I hate the word ‘woke’. Hate it. But it serves a purpose here. This is Woke-Light, Woke-not-jammed-down-your-throat. I think in Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World the author deliberately chose bonds that could be seen as weaker to a mainstream audience. Two gay dads. An adopted daughter. To the nuclear family ideal that horror often relates its sacrifice in opposition too, this set up seems more fragile. But Tremblay absolutely shatters any notion of this, and triumphantly shows that love is love is love, no matter the family make-up, DNA, or origins.
Tremblay navigates the desperate plea’s of four strangers begging for the fate of the world, and balances it against the familial primacy of the family they have intruded upon.
It. Is. Genius.
Trump and Tremblay
Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World was published in the middle of Trump’s presidency. And this is important. One of the key features of the novel is how it binds these four strangers together, and how these strangers then form their plan to manipulate our protagonist family.
A combination of warped world views, seemingly random events, and unyielding belief in a narrative they themselves seem to have constructed, Tremblay astutely places this novel in a time of misinformation, media narratives, and (the dreaded term) “Fake News”.
This alone is enough to set Tremblay head and shoulders above much of his contemporary competition, but to do so with a gay couple and an adopted Chinese daughter? Cam’aaannn.
The narrative is frightening, not only because the novel moves at a break necked speed, but because it feels, arguably, more likely to happen in 2018 (or now) than it ever would have pre-Trump.
And this poses an interesting, and compelling, dilemma; is there anything that could make you sacrifice a member of your family? To save the world.
MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT
I want to leave this article with a point from the novel itself. Each of these four strangers are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to convince the family to do what’s needed for the world. Each one of them is killed up until the family chooses. It reframes the question I asked above significantly, and it’s why I included it here.
This novel is brilliant because you begin to believe the passion of the strangers invading the New Hampshire cabin, and Tremblay doesn’t allow for an easy answer to any of the questions his novel poses. You feel for Daddy Andrew, Eric, and their daughter Wen, but you feel for the strangers too, and you can see they’re as desperate to save their own families as much as they are the world. It’s a checkmate move, because they are literally doing what they’re asking the family to do.
Also, The Cabin at the End of the World. I.e. not the world’s physical end, but at its apocalypse (maybe?) Cam’aaannnnnn, that is fundamentally amazing.
More Reading about Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World
Title alone is amazing: “This F**** Me Up: The Cabin at the End of the World”
Last Updated on February 21, 2022.