Wow. Wow. The Cabin at the End of the World is a gut-punch of a book.
On an otherwise normal day, young girl Wen is playing in the front yard of the family’s vacation rental cabin. It’s deep in the woods, away from cell towers and neighbors. They wanted a chance to unplug and get away.
As she plays, a stranger named Leonard approaches. Soon, a group of three more strangers appear, all carrying frightening homemade weapons. After a kerfuffle, the strangers breach the cabin, telling Wen and her two dads that the world will end unless they decide to sacrifice one of themselves. It’s an impossible choice. Who would willingly sacrifice their spouse or child?
It’s the ultimate in discomforting reads, the home invasion story. Home is supposed to be one’s haven; a place of respite. To have that safe space breached is to take away any sense of security or comfort. No place is safe. There is no time out.
The book makes me think of the movie Funny Games.
Funny Games is another brutal home invasion movie, but, unlike The Cabin at the End of the World, the director plays with the conventions of storytelling, breaking the fourth wall. In one scene of Funny Games, in fact, the victims manage to overcome the invaders and kill one of them. To remedy this, the other invader simply rewinds the scene and plays it again to their own advantage.
Like Funny Games, The Cabin at the End of the World does not shy away from brutality. Even children aren’t immune. I don’t want to spoil the story, but those who are sensitive to such things may want to skip this one.
I approached this as just a book. Once the really bad things started happening, part of my brain detached and had to, out of necessity and an effort to not be an emotional mess, almost flippantly take the rest of the book as a piece of unfathomable fiction. It’s the only way I could get through it.
One thing Tremblay does so masterfully is leave key parts of the story ambiguous. Is the world actually going to end? He creates enough evidence and doubt on both sides of the question that readers could strongly and successfully argue either one. I sometimes get impatient with ambiguous endings, but love the question this leaves in my mind.