fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsPeter StraubThe Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine by Peter Straub

Ballard, a wealthy businessman, and Sandrine, his much younger lover, are cruising down the Amazon River in a mysterious yacht. The crew is never seen, blank-eyed natives watch the boat from the river’s shores, and there seems to be a dangerous predator in the river. The dimensions of the yacht don’t make sense, the delicious food is unidentifiable, and it’s not clear how long Ballard and Sandrine have been on the boat.

Presumably, they’re taking a vacation somewhere out of the reach of Ballard’s clients and Sandrine’s husband, but as the story goes on, it seems that they’re also moving through time as they travel down the mighty river. We see the couple at various ages during the trip, always appearing a little uncomfortable with their feelings of disorientation and déjà vu.

Add to this eerie situation the unusual and revolting sexual fetish that brought Ballard and Sandrine together, and you’ve got quite an unsettling little horror story.

The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine is only 96 pages long, making this a novella that can easily be read in an evening. Straub succeeds in alarming the reader right from the start — why is Sandrine lying naked on a cold trenched metal workbench? The flutter in my stomach never went away and it only intensified as further disconcerting and indecipherable discoveries were made.

There is some beauty in The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine — they’re floating through the lush Amazon, after all — but these glimpses are too brief to alleviate the disturbing feelings of imminent doom. I love the idea of a time-travel yacht trip down the exotic Amazon River, and I would have even enjoyed the terror if it hadn’t been for the aforementioned sexual fetish. It’s intricately linked to the story and the plot relies upon it, but it was too much for my delicate senses. Less sensitive readers are more likely to enjoy The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

    View all posts