Paul Tremblay’s exploration of the apocalypse takes a unique step towards unfamiliar territory in his latest novel, Cabin At The End of the World (2018). As his previous novels, Tremblay maintains a tone that is undesignated to a single idea or theme. Trust, deceit, paranoia, fanaticism, and the end-times are just a few of the key elements that drive the novel into terrifying territory. Although Cabin At The End of the World has been categorized as a horror novel, it is definitely not “horror” in the traditional sense. The terror in Tremblay’s novel stems from the horrors brought upon by real people, in a scenario that is very much probable (depending on your stance of the novel’s conclusion).
The novel opens with Wen, an adopted seven year old from China, sitting quietly on the front yard of a summer cabin located in Northern New Hampshire. Sitting quietly in a remote destination, away from society and cell phone signals, the vacation cabin houses Wen along her two dads, Eric and Andrew. As Wen sits collecting grasshoppers in a glass jar, a stranger comes approaching her from the lonely road. The stranger, named Leonard, engages in conversation meanwhile helping her collect grasshoppers. Suddenly, when three more strangers approach the vacation home, Leonard warns Wen that her, as well as her two dads, have an important task with saving humanity from the end of the world. The task? Wen and her two dads, Eric and Andrew, must decide who is to be sacrificed (voluntarily) in order to prevent the apocalypse.
As the four strangers force their way into the summer cabin, it is at this moment when things take a turn into strange territory. Throughout Cabin At The End of the World, Tremblay never truly explores the depths of the end-times. Rather, Tremblay focuses on the impact the end-times has on our characters. Choosing to wrestle belief with doubt, Tremblay focuses much of his energy on presenting clues to believe the end-times is probable, alongside countering it with doubtful evidence. For example, Leonard states that at a certain hour, a sign of the end times will become known (in the form of a tsunami/flood), killings thousands of people. As our characters witness (on television) the merciless waters claiming the lands and its inhabitants, Andrew (a skeptic) incites doubt when proving the television broadcast is a pre-recording; that perhaps Leonard and his companions were already aware of the events to come prior to arriving at the cabin.
As the novel continues to unfold, readers are left with piecing the clues together and drafting their own assessment; is the apocalypse really happening? Will their sacrifice truly make an impact on the world and its’ fate? My own assessment lead me to my own conclusion to Cabin At The End of the World. The strangers were willing to sacrifice themselves, as they demonstrated in the novel, due to their strong convictions about the apocalypse. Could it in fact be true? Or are the strangers truly fanatics that have simply fallen victim to their extreme zealotry? On the other end of the spectrum, Andrew’s sense of doubt and skepticism attempts to place reason where suspicion lie. At one point, Andrew accuses one of the strangers as an intemperate homophobe who at one point had crossed paths with him years ago.
One interesting detail I noticed regarding the novel was Tremblay’s usage of the number seven. Perhaps I am over analyzing details not relevant and/or this was not Tremblay’s intention, but there are several usages of the number seven; which happens to have relevance to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament from the Bible. Several usages include Wen’s age of seven, seven grasshoppers collected, seven central characters (Wen, Andrew, Eric, Leonard, Adriane, Redmond, and Sabrina), and seven planes crashing (one of the many signs/disasters of the end-times). Extending to several literary genres, from prophesies to the apocalypse, the Book of Revelation expresses the number seven in several forms. Yet one in particular are the seven seals/scrolls in the Book of Revelation which contain information on the end-times; the opening of each seal contains an apocalyptic event such as the Four Horsemen (as mentioned in Cabin At The End of the World). As I’ve previously mentioned, perhaps I am over-analyzing details which were not Tremblay’s intention.
Cabin At The End of the World comes together to form a story that’s built upon two facets; one of a home invasion curated by extremists who claim a divine intervention brought them against their will, and the other of a family whose choices may impact the fate of the world and humanity’s survival. Tremblay won’t spell it out for you. Cabin will challenge the reader to accept the apocalypse, or fight the zealotry of these fanatic individuals. The narrative is solid, yet the pace of the novel can tend to drag from time to time. But there’s enough to keep you engaged and wonder what exactly will come of the events. The ending may not appeal to most readers, as Tremblay seems to commit to the ambiguity up until the final sentence. But perhaps the reader can gather enough clues to make their own judgement; just as I did. If there’s any social commentary to examine, it’s perhaps the horrors of extremism; which is very real in our time. Cabin At The End of the World is a worthy one time read, yet little value for a re-visit. Endings don’t have to be entirely satisfying, but coming full circle rather than keeping readers in a maze could have added some re-read value. Pick up Cabin At The End of the World at your local bookstore. It’s still a damn good read.
Thanks for reading.