Weird Punk Books. 2021 ISBN: 978-1-951658-12-0. Pp., 112.
What is it about sadomasochistic relationships that perpetually fascinate modern readers? Perhaps it is the way they invert our commonly understood notions of love and fidelity? Or perhaps it says something of the allure of cruelties we cannot bring our own selves to commit and take pleasure in? These questions have been investigated by luminaries such as the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and in Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke Eric LaRocca takes up this theme in a short and compact epistolatory novella.
The book offers a collection of emails and chatroom conversations chronicling the story of Agnes and Zoe, two women who meet online and proceed to enter into a contracted sadomasochistic relationship. It is a Venus in Furs for an age of email and the internet. Coming in at a mere 112 pages, LaRocca delivers a powerful punch that keeps readers engaged. Yet at times the narrative style prevents readers from fully understanding the characters and their motives. As a genre, sadomasochistic literature often gets us to think about cruelty, isolation, and the nature of pleasure in new ways. LaRocca offers brief glimpses into these broader themes, but rarely does the book venture into deeper waters. The relationship between Agnes and Zoe develops quickly, and readers may find themselves wanting more as the novella reaches its horrifying crescendo.
Given the book’s brevity, a committed reader can power through it in a single sitting and will surely not feel disappointed by the end. Yet LaRocca misses an opportunity to add something new to the theme he treats. Sadomasochism probes disturbing questions of power dynamics, sexual aestheticism, and what for a better term might be deemed the “art of cruelty.” These elements seem muted in Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, leaving the reader to decide the level of emotional investment they chose to place in the characters.