Short Take: “Cirque Berserk,” Jessica Guess

Rating: 5 out of 5

Jessica Guess’s horror novella Cirque Berserk (Rewind or Die) is dynamite! It starts off with a bang in 1999, where teens at an abandoned carnival slaughter several people. Then, in 2019, we meet up with a rented school bus carrying a bunch of teens for their senior trip. They don’t have to return the bus for some hours yet, so they decide to stop by Cirque Berserk, a legendary (in the urban legends sort of way) abandoned carnival. So rumor goes, three kids slaughtered a whole bunch of people at the carnival and then killed themselves. Rumor has it that the carnival is haunted. Sam, who wants to go on to be a professional influencer, is the one who talks everyone else into going. Her bff Rochelle has zero interest in a haunted carnival, but the bus driver talks her into going. One young couple heads off to see if they can find a generator to activate. When the power comes back on, people split up to visit their favorite attractions.

There’s just so much I can’t say, because despite the short length of this book, it totally blindsided me with a lot of what happened. It subverts some tropes in delightful ways. The narrative goes back and forth between the past and the present, allowing us to really get to know the teens who committed the massacre, why they did it, and what they got out of it. In the present, there’s plenty of bloodshed. I was spellbound.

This has so much of the traditional slasher story to it, yet manages to transcend that without losing track of that fun aspect. We get to have our horrifying cake and eat it too!

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