BOOK CLUB BOOKS, PART 1

Let’s talk about book group books.  I’ve been leading the Field Notes Book Group for some years now, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts about the things you need for a good book group discussion.

You want books that people are going to want to read.  Obviously if you choose a book and most of the people in the group don’t want to read it, or are unable or unwilling to read the whole thing, you’re going to have trouble coming up with a good discussion of the book.  Sometimes a book that’s too long is a problem (though we solved that problem once by choosing a long book, Shantaram, in June and reading it over the summer, meeting in September to discuss it; clearly that’s not always an option, of course).  Sometimes a book is too dense, especially if it’s a nonfiction book, or sometimes the language of the book is too difficult for people to get into (to my surprise, that was a problem with Persuasion; the old-fashioned language Jane Austen uses wasn’t a barrier for me, but it was for a number of the readers).  

They don’t have to be books everybody’s going to like.  This is important, because you are NOT going to find books that everybody likes, not if you have a lively group (and that’s the goal, isn’t it?).  Some of the best discussions we’ve had were about books that at least some people disliked, and disliked vehemently (we even had one discussion where just about everybody in the group disliked the book, and that was a fun meeting).  What you don’t want are books that people are lukewarm about, because there’s nothing much to say about those books once you’ve said “Yeah, it was okay, I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it.”

They should be books at least some people in the group are really going to like.  You can have a meeting where everybody hates the book and everybody feels so strongly they want to explain exactly what they hated about the book (it’s better if they hate different things about the book), but unless that’s the kind of energy you want to deal with at every meeting, you’ll do better if those meetings are few and far between.

The book should have something worth discussing, beyond just the characters and the plot. Yes, these are good places to start.  A book where you dislike or disbelieve every character is not going to be one you enjoy reading, and I personally have little patience for novels which don’t have some semblance of a plot.  But if you want to have a discussion that’s longer than a few minutes, picking a book that’s all about the “twisty” plot isn’t going to work; once the people in the group have finished arguing about whether that twist made sense or whether they were or weren’t surprised by it, there’s not a lot more to say. A book that’s set in a place or time people weren’t familiar with before reading it can lead to great discussions; a book that turns on issues people in the group didn’t know about can be a revelation.  

On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to choose something controversial just for the sake of being edgy, unless you have the kind of group where most of the people have no problem reading in your face kind of books. This includes books where there’s a lot of cursing, or a lot of sex, or a lot of violence (so, no Jo Nesbo for my book group!), if you know some members of your group are going to be turned off by those things. Trust me, you will not be limited to children’s books or the blandest of novels if you’re being careful about language or violence, and your group will be long lasting if you’re not deliberately choosing books that will offend some of the members.

Along the same lines, when the group is selecting a book, if there’s a topic that is genuinely offensive to one member of the group, even if the rest of the group might want to read it, it’s respectful of the feelings of that member to take the book out of consideration for selection.  This came up once in our group: among the books I had suggested for the next month was Quicksand, a novel about a school shooting. It turned out to be a fascinating psychological study of a young woman who was being charged with murder in connection with the shooting, but two people in the group said they absolutely did not want to read anything involving a school shooting, so that was that. Could we have had an exciting and deep discussion of the issues in that book?  Sure. Would it have been appropriate if the book were triggering or unduly upsetting to one of the members? No.

The book you choose doesn’t have to be something you yourself have already read, either. Sometimes that makes it easier to sell a book to the group if it’s one I’m enthusiastic about and know is a great read because I’ve already read it (maybe multiple times), but a book group is about exploration and discovery, for the leader as well as for the members. Sometimes you just have to take a chance on something you haven’t read yet, putting yourself in the same position as the rest of the group. If nothing else, choosing a book you haven’t read means you don’t feel you have to justify the book to everybody else if it turns out other people aren’t as enthusiastic as you are about it.

It’s up to the people in the group whether you want to do nonfiction as well as fiction, or whether you want to limit yourselves to a particular category of books.  Some of the best books we’ve read in the group have been nonfiction (the question of which books I think have been the best will have to wait for another post), though not all the nonfiction books have been winners. If you’re going to read nonfiction, I think you have to be careful about finding books that will appeal to the whole group, books that aren’t too technical but at the same time aren’t too superficial, which can be more difficult than choosing novels for a group.

Finally, while you can use online listings of “the best books” of the year, or the “best nonfiction” or the like, I recommend that you don’t just rely on those lists, unless you’re very familiar with the reviewers and have a sense of what they think is good or not.  The one book I mentioned that just about everybody in the group hated was one chosen from a group of the “best books of the year,” which made all of us wonder about what the criteria were for calling something the “best.”

Still to come: my choices for the best books we’ve read so far in book group.  Stay tuned!

 

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THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, PART 2: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THESE BOOKS

I have already written about The Great American Read, the program set up by PBS to determine Americans’ favorite novel (here).  In my last post, I discussed the odd choices the selectors made with respect to some of the authors. This time, to balance things out a little, I’m going to talk about the books that were excellently chosen, some of which I wouldn’t have expected to see in a list chosen by the public like this.  I’m not saying which books I’m voting for (truth to tell, I haven’t decided yet, and may split my votes over several books and several days), but I do want to highlight some of the books that will probably get my votes.

Some of them are obvious.  I’ve only loved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, since I was a child, and passed that love on to my daughter (one year I planned an Alice in Wonderland party for her, and we had a blast).  The absurdity of the whole book, the inside jokes, the bizarre characters, the poems (which of course I memorized; I can still rattle off “You Are Old, Father Williams” after many decades), all of it tickled my imagination as a child and still does (try The Annotated Alice, if you want to get all the inside jokes and the references).

I have long contended that The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is one of the Great American Novels (I realize there are people who disagree with me, but I believe they just haven’t read it in the right mood yet).  Such a short book, but so gorgeously written! You could just sit there and read and reread certain passages just to savor the beautiful language (one of the ways to tell, in my opinion, if a book is beautifully written, is to read the opening paragraphs and the closing ones, and if they sing, you know you’ve got something special in your hands), and the themes of rich and poor, of self-creation and the American Dream, are still powerful today (there are many people in public life, for instance, who could be described as the sort of “careless people” Daisy and Tom Buchanan were, and if you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about).

But I also confess to a deep love for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, which I am gobsmacked to find on this list, not because it’s not a great book (it’s a wonderful book), but because I think most people haven’t read it and know nothing more of it than the opening section set in Lilliput.  Which is a shame, because the other worlds Gulliver finds himself shipwrecked in are at least as impressive as Lilliput and provide the same satirical thrusts within seeming fantasy, and the last portion of the book, where Gulliver visits the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos (horses and human beings, respectively), is heartbreaking as well as biting. This, like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is one of those books people think they know without ever having read it, and that’s a real shame.

For different reasons, I’m surprised and delighted to see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, on this list. I don’t care if anyone wants to say it’s not great literature, because if you look at some of the other books on the list (which I will not go into now; that may be another post), it’s very clear that a book doesn’t need to be great literature to be included here.  The fact is, the book (the first of a trilogy — well, it’s technically more than a trilogy but that’s because Adams regrettably kept adding books to the group, when he really should have stopped with Life, The Universe, and Everything, the third book and a natural ending point) is brilliant and funny, science fiction meeting Monty Python, containing warped ideas about the nature of human intelligence and the purpose of the earth, with unforgettable characters and a plot that never goes where you expect it to.  A fast read and a funny one, The Hitchhiker’s Guide probably won’t win this contest, but if its inclusion on the list means more people read it, I can only cheer.  

Having The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, on the list is a wonderful thing.  While her body of work since then has certainly been impressive, I confess I still have a special place in my heart for The Joy Luck Club. Not only is it an #OwnVoices book, and not only are the characters varied and vividly drawn, but the structure of the book, with the alternating stories from mothers in China and in America and daughters in America (and, at the very end, in China), works brilliantly with the book’s theme of mothers and daughters and the strains of being immigrants and first generation Americans.  If you haven’t read Joy Luck yet, let this be encouragement to get around to it.

In a way, the inclusion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice seems an obvious choice (how many movie versions of this book have there been?  Not to mention all the spinoffs, including a murder mystery version by the late great P. D. James, and various books focusing on different characters who were given short shrift by Austen), though I would be hard-pressed to find an Austen book I didn’t like or want to vote for.  On the other hand, there’s something about the 19th century language and style of sentences Austen uses which take some getting used to for modern readers (as I discovered in a recent book group discussion of Persuasion, which is one of my all-time favorite Austen books), and I like the idea that people who might not otherwise actually READ Pride and Prejudice might pick the book up as a result of this publicity.  The more readers she gets, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m sure Armistead Maupin, writing the first book in the Tales of the City series, never expected his books to be considered almost historical novels, but now, decades after they were written and first became popular, they are a vivid, detailed picture of a particular time and place which has changed a great deal since: San Francisco in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, as AIDS began to make itself felt in the gay community. The stories were originally serialized in newspapers before being collected into books, a la Charles DIckens, but they don’t feel disjointed. There’s an almost soap-opera quality to the way the characters interact with each other over the course of the series, but that doesn’t matter because the characters, straight, gay, bisexual and transgender, are all so real and alive that you care about their relationships and about them. It’s wonderful to see these books included on the Great American Reads list, whether or not they get enough votes to “win.”

 

WHEN ACTING BECOMES TOO REAL: BELIEVE ME

What an intriguing premise for a thriller: Claire,  the main character in Believe Me, by J. P. Delaney, is a British woman in America who, trying to make a living as an actress and needing to make money, takes on a job acting as a decoy for divorce lawyers.  Her job is to catch cheating or would-be cheating husbands. Stop right there and consider what kind of job that would be. Yes, it probably would pay well, and it would be a way for Claire to hone her acting skills (though not necessarily roles she could list on a resume), but by the same token it could be quite dangerous, no matter how careful she and her employers are.

Naturally there are rules she has to follow.  She can’t entrap; she can’t seduce. She’s only allowed to be obviously available to the would-be cheater and see what he does. If the person is innocent, then nothing happens and there’s nothing for her to tape. If the person tries to seduce her, then she’s got evidence which the law firm can use on behalf of the “victim” wife, in negotiations or legal proceedings.

All goes well until the wife of one of her targets is murdered, and naturally the prime suspect is the husband Claire has been working on.  The police come to Claire and ask her to continue with the husband, in an effort to get him to confess to his crime so they can arrest him before he kills again.  

It shouldn’t be too hard for someone as experienced as Claire. She’s good at putting on fake accents, creating fake stories, fake personalities. She’s dealt with a number of different kinds of men, cheating and otherwise.  Getting a confession is a little different from getting someone to hit on her, but she believes, at least at first, that it’s something she can handle.

But it seems there’s a difference between dealing with a would-be adulterer and a possible wife-murderer, and as Claire goes deeper into her role, she begins to wonder what the difference is between a decoy and prey.

If you’re a fan of the unreliable narrator thrillers which are so hot right now, or if you’ve read The Girl Before (Delaney’s last book) and enjoyed it, then check out Believe Me and prepare yourself for a twisty thriller.

WHO CHOSE THESE TITLES? THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, PART ONE

You may have heard of the PBS series, The Great American Read, in which a list of 100 books are presented to be chosen by Americans as their “favorite novel.”  The Field Library, among many others, has a display showcasing various books on the list for people to peruse and vote for.  There are three ways to vote, on the website, posting the hashtag on Facebook or Twitter, or texting the hashtag of the particular book to a particular number.  The list is here

I am not, at the moment, going to talk about the books on the list which I think shouldn’t be there if we’re talking about “great” books; that may be the subject of another post later on.  Right now I would like to talk about some of the head-scratching selections of books by authors who are (and should be) on the list.

The selection process is a bit opaque; the website claims that the initial list came from a statistically representative sampling of American readers, and then it was narrowed down by professionals. The criteria used are here.  I can understand wanting to limit an author to one book, but I do have some issues with the books this group has chosen in a couple of instances.

Let’s start with Mark Twain.  No question in my mind he should be on this list; he’s one of the greatest American writers.  But why would you choose The Adventures of Tom Sawyer over The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? I realize there are issues about the language in Huckleberry Finn, but as a novel, it’s a much deeper, more powerful book than Tom Sawyer, which is a lightweight boy-coming-of-age story.  

Then we have Charles Dickens, another author who absolutely should be listed here. And I’m sure a case could be made for Great Expectations as the book to be representative of his work, but I have a feeling it’s included because a lot of high schools have made it required reading (not that they should; it’s long been my argument that high school kids don’t have the life experience that would make Great Expectations come alive for them), and not because it’s really Dickens’ best or even most representative book.  My personal favorite would be Bleak House, a towering examination of the British legal system, the vast gap between rich and poor, with suspense, mystery, and all the wonderful characters you expect to find in Dickens’ work.  But if Bleak House is too long and too little known (a shame!), why wouldn’t you choose Oliver Twist, or A Tale of Two Cities, both of which are incredibly memorable and both of which have given phrases to our culture that are still used (“Please, sir, could I have some more?” , and “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” respectively)?  It seems completely arbitrary to me.

But the worst, in my opinion, is the choice of The Sirens of Titan for Kurt Vonnegut. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read The Sirens of Titan and enjoyed it, and there are memorable scenes in that book, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of his earlier works and not as good as his later (sometimes) better known books. Wouldn’t you think Slaughterhouse Five would be the choice?  A best-selling, best known book by Vonnegut, it’s much more representative of the things people love about his work.  And if you’re being a hipster and deliberately not choosing Slaughterhouse Five because it’s so famous, I can think of two other Vonnegut books off the top of my head which are better reads and more moving than The Sirens of Titan.  Specifically, Mother Night, a short but powerful book about an American who impersonates a Nazi in World War II Germany while secretly acting as an American spy, and what happens to him when he’s hiding out under a false identity in New York after the war (the book has a lot of good stuff in it, but the real takeaway is that we become what we pretend to be, so we should be careful what we pretend to be; tell me that’s not a good moral for this day and age!), or, if that’s not off the wall enough, Cat’s Cradle, a book about the end of the world, caused not by nuclear war but by the existence of a substance called Ice 9, an anti-war book (like so many of Vonnegut’s) absurd and funny and tragic at the same time.

Of course, I’m not finished going through the list and reacting to it, so keep watching this blog for more (I might even rant about the books that I believe should NOT be on the list no matter what).

AUGUST 2018 FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND

Having discovered this month that the group is not fond of Annie Dillard’s essays, at least not in the collected form (sort of a Greatest Hits version) found in The Abundance, the Field Notes Book Group has chosen a novel for our August selection, the international bestseller, My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante, which should inspire lots of interesting discussion when we meet again on August 18, at The Field Library Gallery from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

My Brilliant Friend, the first book in a four book series (and yes, the series is complete, an important factor as far as I’m concerned) that follows two girls, quiet and bookish Elena and fiery wild Lila, in their friendship starting in the 1950’s in a tough, poor neighborhood near Naples, Italy.  The first book, the one we’re reading, starts with the two girls as 10 year olds beginning their real friendship, but also developing the strains in the friendship, as Lila comes across to Elena as in every way smarter, more beautiful and more ambitious than Elena, but at the same time more limited by her family circumstances.  A very intimate, detailed portrait of two particular people and one particular time and place, My Brilliant Friend is a book people have raved about since it first appeared.

So come in to The Field Library and pick up a copy at the Circulation desk, and then join us on August 18 for lively discussion, coffee and donuts.

MONEY, POWER, CLASS AND INTRIGUE: THE SUMMER WIVES

Winthrop Island, a fictitious island off the New England coast in the Long Island Sound, is the setting for Beatriz Williams’ new book, The Summer Wives. It’s a place where the rich come to summer, drink cocktails and keep away from the hoi polloi.  It is also a place where the locals, who are Portuguese and working class, live year round and spend their summers working for the rich people, but other than the necessary interactions of employer-employee, the two groups could be living on different planets for all they know of each other.

Such an environment, of course, is ripe for drama, and Williams stirs it up expertly. We start with Miranda Schuyler in 1951 arriving on the island for her mother’s wedding to Hugh Fisher, one of the richest and most influential of the rich crowd.  Still mourning her father’s death in World War II, Miranda needs a guide to the intricacies of the social scene on Winthrop, which her new stepsister, Isobel, is more than happy to provide.

Naturally, Miranda is also intrigued by the locals, and in particular one local, Joseph Vargas, whose father runs the lighthouse that’s overlooked by Fisher’s mansion. Joseph had been involved in an intense friendship (or possibly something more than that) with Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s stepsister, but he and Miranda start a relationship of their own, a relationship that is doomed when Hugh Fisher is murdered and Joseph is charged with the murder.

Fast forward twenty years.  Miranda has been away from the island for two decades, living a life as a famed Shakespearean actress, but in the aftermath of a disastrous relationship, she’s coming back to Winthrop to find herself again.  It happens that Joseph Vargas has escaped from prison and is also heading back to WInthrop. Things have changed a lot on the island, but some things remain the same, and now Miranda is determined to find out the truth about what happened to her stepfather all those years before, to exonerate the man she loved, no matter what may happen when deep secrets of the rich and famous are exposed, even by someone who was almost one of their own.

A historical novel that’s also a good summer read, with secrets, intrigue, The Summer Wives is just the book to take with you on vacation or for a long hot weekend.

 

SPIES AND COUNTER SPIES, HISTORY AND ALTERNATE HISTORY IN WORLD WAR I: BLACK CHAMBER

Alternate histories, if properly researched and well-written, can be a great deal of fun, and can give you a new perspective on what actually happened by showing you what might have happened if one or two details had been different.  

Allow me to introduce you to what may be the first book in an alternate history series, but one which is entertaining and complete in itself: Black Chamber, by S. M. Stirling. One of the more interesting things about the premise of this book is that it’s focused on World War I, not the more popular WWII versions.

In Stirling’s world, just before the Republican Convention in 1912, the President and presumed nominee of the party, William Howard Taft, dropped dead suddenly, and Theodore Roosevelt (who, as we history buffs know, ran against Taft and Wilson on a third party ticket) leaped into the void and became the Republican Party nominee. With the Republican vote no longer split between Taft and Roosevelt, in this reality Roosevelt handily won election over Wilson (remember, there was no amendment limiting the number of times a person could be president at that point).  While World War I began in August 1914 as it did in this reality, with Theodore Roosevelt as president, the United States was much better prepared to enter the war in 1916 (rather than in 1917, as in this reality).

The war is not going well for the Triple Entente in 1916; the Central Powers are basically winning in Europe, Africa and western Asia, and President Roosevelt knows or suspects the German Empire is working on something that will keep the United States from entering the war. To find out exactly what’s going on, Roosevelt turns to the Black Chamber, his spy agency and a forerunner to the CIA, and the Black Chamber turns to one of its best agents, Luz O’Malley Arostegui.  As you can guess from her name, she has a very complicated background, and she is called upon to pose as a Mexican Revolutionary who’s interested in joining up with the Germans. In a transatlantic dirigible voyage, she meets the German spy she’s been sent to follow, and she begins to work to earn his trust and find out his secrets, which turn out to involve a terrible weapon to be used against the American mainland.

Imagine James Bond, crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and place her in a unique post-Victorian world, and you have the makings of an engrossing and fun read.  You obviously don’t need to know all about World War I in order to follow and enjoy this book, but also obviously, the more you know about the actual events, the more you can appreciate the fascinating changes Stirling has made to his world.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER: THE BOND THAT KILLS

What’s more beautiful than the bond between a mother and child?  What’s more celebrated in our culture? Isn’t mother love the foundation for a person’s whole outlook on his or her future life?  

But what if there’s something wrong with the bond between mother and child?  As any honest parent will admit, there are times when that particular bond is strained by the behavior of even the best child, and the notion of the demon child is also rooted deep within our culture.  If you’re ready to see the horrific possibilities of a mother-child bond gone wrong, then check out Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage, an award-winning playwright and filmmaker, for a domestic thriller that will give any new mother (or older mother) pause.

Suzette Jensen, the protagonist, knew from the outset that having a child would be difficult for her because of her fragile health, and that she didn’t have much of a role model when it came to being a good mother.  But she and her husband, Alex, decided to bring a child into the world anyway, and when Hannah was born, both parents were delighted.

However, Hannah was not the sweet, loving, or easy child Suzette hoped for.  As a matter of fact, Hannah turned out to be an extraordinarily difficult child. When the book opens, Hannah is seven years old, willful and aggressive.  She can read and write, but she refuses to talk. She’s already been kicked out of kindergarten because of her behavior toward other kids, and Suzette is forced to home-school her. The battle of wills between Hannah and Suzette worsens over time. Hannah resents her mother’s rules and any attempts to discipline her, and she makes her feelings clear.

To Alex, Hannah is a strong-willed, precocious child, his perfect darling, and Hannah really loves her father and is happiest when she’s with him. He can’t see anything wrong with her, and he thinks his wife is exaggerating when she complains about the way Hannah is behaving.

Suzette knows Hannah hates her and is jealous of her.  She believes Hannah is trying to come between her and Alex, and maybe wants Suzette out of the picture altogether. But is anyone going to believe Suzette or take any action before it’s too late?

 

ADVICE FOR THE HOME FRONT: DEAR MRS. BIRD

The last few years have seen a number of books about World War II, especially on the home front (whether that home front was in America or elsewhere).  Possibly they’re popular because we like to look back to a time when things seemed simpler, more black and white. Possibly they’re popular because we know the good guys won that one, and since then it’s been much harder to be sure if the good guys are winning or not. Whatever the reason, we’re lucky to be able to enjoy a good, charming historical novel set in London in 1940, Dear Mrs. Bird, by A. J. Pearce.

Patriotic and energetic, young Emmeline Lake wants to do her part for the war effort.  First she volunteers as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Service, but what she really wants is to be a Lady War Correspondent. The advertisement for the job with the London Evening Chronicle, while not exactly focused that way, fills her with hope that she can be on the right path soon.

Imagine Emmy’s disappointment when she discovers that, instead of investigating the battlefield and doing real war work, she’s gotten a job as a lowly typist for the famous advice columnist, Henrietta Bird.  She decides to make the best of it and work as hard as she can, but this turns out to be more difficult than she’d thought. It seems Henrietta Bird doesn’t want to deal with any of the readers’ letters that deal with unpleasant things, like going too far with a young man, or not wanting to have children evacuated from London for their safety.  All such letters are to be pitched into the trash, so Mrs. Bird can concentrate on more elevated issues. And besides, the people who are whining about these unsuitable problems should just buck up and straighten themselves out, as far as she’s concerned.

As the Battle of Britain, also known as the Blitz, intensifies and London is bombed repeatedly, Emmy finds she can’t just throw those letters away without doing something.  So on the sly she starts responding herself to the unpleasant letters Mrs. Bird doesn’t want to deal with. And if she happens to use the magazine’s stationery and to sign the letters as Mrs. Bird, well, there can’t be anything too wrong about that, can there? After all, there’s a war on, and the lonely, worried, frightened people writing to the (mostly useless) Mrs. Bird need to know that someone hears them, someone cares about them.

Emmy and her best friend and roommate, Bunty, exemplify the spirit that got Londoners through the Blitz, resilient and brave and ready to respond even to tragedy with a black humor that keeps people from utter despair.  Join Emmy for an insider’s view of women’s lives during the Blitz, and be prepared to lose yourself in Emmy’s charm and endless energy.

HOME INVASION OR END OF THE WORLD?

Here’s the premise of the newest thriller by Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World: a family (two dads and one daughter) is taking a vacation at a remote cabin on a lake in New Hampshire.  There’s no phone reception and no wi-fi. The nearest neighbor is a good two miles or more away, the only access roads are dirt and rutted.

If you’re a fan of horror fiction, you’re probably already filling in the blanks for what happens next, and the interesting thing is, you won’t be far off.  Yes, this family is going to be threatened; yes, there will be strangers coming to the house and ensconcing themselves in it without the consent of the family.  Yes, the isolation is going to come into play and make the family’s situation all the more difficult to resolve in their favor.

There are a few quirks, though.  Those four strangers who come to the cabin are carrying some unidentifiable objects which might or might not be weapons. The first one, who meets the daughter (Wen) outside the cabin, is a kindly seeming person who wins her trust immediately, and then tells her that none of what is about to happen is her fault.  When the others arrive, they inform Wen that her fathers won’t want to let them into the house, but they have to be there because otherwise the world will come to an end. They need the help of Wen’s fathers to save the world from destruction, no matter how strange that might sound.

So who are these people?  Are they really some kind of heroes who are about to save the world, in which case their invading this small family’s home might seem justified, if not a great experience for the family?  Or are they survivalist nutcases, convinced of the imminent apocalypse and seeing signs that nobody else sees because the signs don’t exist? Four men talking about the end of the world: could they be the Biblical Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in new circumstances but with the same basic mission?  Were they telling the truth when they told Wen they weren’t going to hurt her or her fathers, and how could you possibly trust these men?

You should be warned that this is a book that includes violence, and serious violence at that; if you’re squeamish you might want to choose something else. But if you’re in the mood for a book that will keep you frantically turning pages and that will ask questions you haven’t thought about for years, then by all means give The Cabin at the End of the World a try.