When part time swim instructor Luke Rhodes witnesses the inconceivable, a drowning within his pool, his life slowly becomes unravelled. Haunted by the chords and melodies of a vague recollection in song, he becomes possessed in unravelling its meaning. Cognitive snippets of recollection burst within his memory as the body count begins to rise. Together with his wives Dara and Maribel along with his lifelong confidant Johnny Cruz they embark upon solving the ominous mystery of the frogmen and the elusive tune. United will they have the moxy to solve this apocalyptic doom or will they ultimately succumb to the Nightmare Ballad?
I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the works of Mr. Ethridge. Upon reading the smash hit of short stories Limbus Inc. I mentally filed away the author’s name upon reading The Slaughter Man. Instantly I knew I was onto something special here. This author has an unprecedented talent of exploiting the darkness within while breathing fresh life into his characters making each step of the tale as realistic as the lives of our neighbours, coworkers or friends.
The lead protagonists of Luke along with wives Dara and Maribel are staggeringly refreshing. I commend Ethridge for taking a bold leap into creating characters reflective of a contemporary society. Far too often we’re exposed to cookie cut characters within our chosen horror tales that wreak of stereotype and the mundane. A three way relationship instantly places our heroes in a notable position. We strive to find out more about them, what makes them tick and how we relate. This bold venture is guaranteed to lure new readers and die-hards alike deeper into the psychological fray of the tale.
The contrast of interpersonal relationships between Johnny Cruz and Luke will also keep the reader fixated. Inducing copious amounts of nostalgia within the individual reader’s psyche, we live vicariously through them perhaps recalling our own individual odd couple memories.
Each of the adversaries of Luke including his coworkers fuels the conflict escalation tremendously. No longer are we suspect of such an untraditional motive behind an unconventional relationship. We find ourselves seething with disdain at each of peers preconceived notions and subconsciously await their ultimate demise for being so closed minded. This author has an immeasurable talent for turning the tables on conservative societal values.
Ethridge’s use of symbolism within dreams is fascinating and will certainly make this read a certifiable page turner for each its recipients. We want to explore deeper into the Id, the ego and superego of each to find out what makes each tick. As their own nightmares become a very real private hell we cannot help but empathize with each recounting our own personal plights.
Some of the engineering and/or waste management jargon derived from the characters’ vocational locale may be a little overwhelming to some. I find it’s a necessary evil in order to fully illustrate the background of each. It’s a delicate balance and thankfully doesn’t seriously detract or distract from this thrilling adventure of apocalyptic proportion.
Perhaps most impressive is the manner in which the tale is constructed in format of stanzas, choruses and narrative. We’ve all been in that position before desperately clambering through the clutter of our minds to recall the all too familiar tune. Ethridge ingeniously narrows in on a very common idiosyncrasy of human behaviour making Nightmare Ballad a most marketable novel unto a vast audience.
In short, if one were to lobotomize David Lynch, Clive Barker and Wes Craven, grind their extractions into one they’d essentially end up with the imaginative odyssey of Nightmare Ballad.
Book Review: Nightmare Ballad – Author Benjamin Kane Ethridge