Eric, Andrew, and their young daughter, Wen, are enjoying a peaceful getaway in a New Hampshire cabin when the world begins to end. Or so they are told. Four strangers show up in coordinating outfits and with terrifying homemade weapons claiming that one member of their family must be a willing sacrifice to halt the apocalypse in its tracks. The four insist that they will not harm or injure anyone, yet Eric and Andrew find themselves bound to chairs, hurt, and terrified. Although these people initially come across as wack jobs, their prophecies start coming to fruition. Or perhaps it just seems like they do. The hostages are left to desperately plot an escape while dealing with a psychotic cult, yet they also find their minds wandering to the possibility that these strangers are actually telling the truth.
The Cabin at the End of the World is a nonstop tour de force that takes readers on one hell of a ride. Does that sound too cliched? Don’t you have to say “tour de force” anymore when something is good? Bear with me, I usually don’t have the opportunity to review a legitimately good book, so I’m rusty when it comes to outright praising something. But truly, this book is fantastic. I’ve been reading Paul Tremblay ever since Stephen King announced that he was a fan of A Head Full of Ghosts, another book to add to your must-read list immediately. It is so so very good. Cabin is a different but equally kind of good. While Head Full of Ghosts is undoubtedly scary, Cabin is disturbing. It gets under your skin and stays there indefinitely, since I’m still creeped out almost a week after finishing it.
The complete isolation at the hands of these intruders is pure anxiety fuel. These people are stuck and helpless, forced to listen to some scary people preaching about the apocalypse. Eric and Andrew have no way of knowing if there is any truth to these claims. What’s more, there is just enough visible truth in what they are saying to make the whole scenario possible. Tremblay plays with our minds through the ever-reasonable Andrew and the occasionally Catholic Eric. We see Andrew grow increasingly irrational in his rationalizations, while Eric fights his conflicted religious beliefs and how they could be coloring the sudden visions that may or may not be concussion induced.
I’ve heard a few gripes that the novel is too meandering and ambiguous, but those particular grips have totally missed the point. I didn’t find the ending to leave anything to question, it seemed clear to me. However, I will say that what makes The Cabin at the End of the World so goddamn scary is the fact that there is just enough evidence for either option to be possible. And yet at the same time, both possibilities sound farfetched. That is what moves this novel from “good” into “brilliant” territory. The readers are just as tormented as the protagonists. Zwe are all very much a captive audience. We spend almost the entirety of the novel trapped in that cabin while these four horsemen try and justify their beliefs and actions. If you’re tied to a chair for long enough, you can’t help but listen to what they’re saying. And that’s when things get interesting.