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Paul Tremblay, author of novel turned into ‘Knock at the Cabin’ film, finds human connection in horror

Author Paul Tremblay arrives for the world premiere of Universal Pictures' "Knock at the Cabin" in New York City on Jan. 30, 2023.ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

You can trace the creative origins of M. Night Shyamalan’s new hit film “Knock at the Cabin” to the Boston suburb of Stoughton, where the novelist Paul Tremblay writes best-selling, award-winning horror novels. The film is based on Tremblay’s 2018 “The Cabin at the End of the World.” one of more than 30 books and short stories, including last year’s “The Pallbearer’s Club.” Despite his success, the native New Englander has kept his day job teaching math to high school students.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

TREMBLAY: I’m rereading Mariana Enríquez’s new novel, “Our Share of Night.” This novel is a big sweeping epic. It’s Roberto Bolaño meets cosmic horror. She’s Argentinian and likes mixing horror with the realistic violence she saw in her country. I’m just past 50, when you feel like your favorite books are set in stone. This book easily cracked that.

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BOOKS: What is on your top five list of books?

TREMBLAY: The two I’ve reread the most, Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which I used to reread at the end of every school year for some reason, and Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves.” One of the main stories in that novel is about a house that looks the same on the outside but expands on the inside. The book itself becomes like an expanding haunted house. Lastly, the novel that turned me into a reader, Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

BOOKS: When did you read “The Stand”?

TREMBLAY: In my early twenties. My girlfriend, who is my wife now, gave it to me for my 22nd birthday right before I went to graduate school in math. I did not read much for pleasure then but I read that, then burned through all of King’s books and started reading Shirley Jackson and Clive Barker.

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BOOKS: What drew you to horror?

TREMBLAY: I actually find most bleak horror oddly hopeful. Because at the very least, any story is a reveal of a truth. In a horror story it’s a reveal of a terrible truth — personal, societal, universal — but I find hope in that shared communication between me and the author that something is terribly wrong. A great recent example of that is “Tender is the Flesh” by the Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica. It’s a totally horrifying book about a near future where humans are herded and harvested for food. I wasn’t sure I could read it because it was so upsetting but I’m glad that I did. It’s so well written and has so many interesting moral insights.

BOOKS: Have you ever set aside a book because it was too scary?

TREMBLAY: I first attempted King at 18. I had bad scoliosis as a teenager and had spinal fusion surgery before I went to college. I spent the summer convalescing. I couldn’t watch TV all the time so I tried reading King’s “It.” I read the first chapter and threw the book across the room. There was no way I was going to be stuck inside and be scared out of my mind. That may be the only time I thought a book was too scary.

BOOKS: Who are the funnier horror writers?

TREMBLAY: Grady Hendrix is the main one. He just had one come out, “How to Sell a Haunted House,” which is very funny. He grew up on ‘80s horror paperbacks and still reads them. He wrote “Paperbacks from Hell,” which is hilarious. It’s this big giant essay/catalogue of all those books with these ridiculous covers and stories.

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BOOKS: What else do you read?

TREMBLAY: I go to literary fiction, but typically stuff which edges towards darker concerns, such as the work of Karen Russell and George Saunders. Another favorite would be Mat Johnson, who wrote “Pym,” which is a kind of twisted Edgar Allen Poe story from a Black writer’s point of view.

BOOKS: What are you reading next?

TREMBLAY: I have S.A. Cosby’s “My Darkest Prayer,” Sam J. Miller’s “Boys, Beasts & Men,” and I just came home with Bret Easton Ellis’s new book, “The Shards.” I have a ton of books kicking around. That’s fine. It’s a hopeful thing, to think that I will have the time in the future to read them all.