Verdict: In THE MIDNIGHT CABARET, Benjamin Roque explores the promise and the threat of midnight, a bewitching time when anything is possible, with nightmarish whimsy.
Humans have long been obsessed with the concept of midnight; when the clock strikes twelve, we expect mystery, wonder, horror, romance, loneliness, death, magic, thrills, chills, dreams, nightmares, visions, and more. THE MIDNIGHT CABARET features 20 short stories and a novella that embody the many moods of midnight.
By flirting with a range of genres and styles, author Benjamin Roque keeps readers on their toes. Any seemingly realistic set-up could lead to an otherworldly encounter or descend into mystical chaos. Recurring motifs—such as whispers on the wind, disembodied eyes, and strangers in the night—lend a dreamlike quality to the collection, as dreams become nightmares, and the nightmares come to life. Several stories exemplify this conceptual exploration:
- In testing a bulletproof vest, a man seeks revenge against the mean-spirited, prankster uncle who faked death in order to torment his brother into insanity—before realizing that his uncle may actually be a ghost.
- When a shipwreck survivor finds himself on the ethereal planet God in i dreamed you here, his attempts to claim the land lead to disastrous cosmic results.
- After losing his eye in a drunk driving accident, an alcoholic dreams of a sinister carnival owner murdering his employees in what the eyeless witness sees. He visits the carnival, determined to interpret the dreams, and finds his severed eye on display….
Roque has a talent for creating atmospheres infused with the uneasy whimsy of a fairy tale gone wrong. However, the focus on atmosphere results in a varied narrative quality; while several of the stronger stories are compelling enough to function as standalone pieces, many only serve to flesh out the overall concept. Strong characterization and plot are frequently sacrificed in favor of aesthetic. In the three-part horror novella in the curtains, the teeth, a demonic muse employs malevolent theatrics to conquer a small town at the center of an inter-dimensional power play. Two stark sequences stand out: a possessed actor destroys his own body in front of a zombified audience, and a disembodied arm conducts a flock of birds to repeatedly chant “I am fiction.” The novella seems intended to be the climactic cornerstone of the collection, but fails to make an impact because the abundance of classical horror elements overpowers the narrative.
In THE MIDNIGHT CABARET, Benjamin Roque explores the promise and the threat of midnight, a bewitching time when anything is possible, with nightmarish whimsy.
~Cameron Gillespie for IndieReader