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.