Eric LaRocca. The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales (Review)

Off Limits Press. 2021. ISBN: 978-1-7374533-1-3. Pp., 119.

For those who have been paying attention to the horror genre, Eric LaRocca appears to be everywhere. His name has consistently made “best of” lists while the eerie cover art of his books has been plastered across social media sites. He has also not been reticent to speak out on the prospect of horror to promote “queer voices” and encourage the inclusion of marginalized groups.

The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales collects eight short stories which probe a number of themes ranging from death and loss to the strains unexpected events can place on parental relationships. LaRocca’s style of horror is modern and realist. It eschews the supernatural to focus on the dark sides of love and human entanglement. The best stories in the collection conjure a feeling of dread in the reader because the world that LaRocca paints could so easily become our own in an instant. In “You’re Not Supposed To Be Here,” a gay couple finds their infant child abducted and are forced to play a sadistic game if they expect to ever see him again. “Where Flames Burned Emerald As Grass” similarly plays upon fears of parental concern when a man on vacation Costa Rica is offered a horrific choice between abandoning his daughter or watching her die. Other stories like “Bodies Are For Burning” and the eponymous “The Strange Thing We Become” explore the darker regions of the human psyche, revealing familial and romantic relationships shaded with neurosis and obsession that at times can feel disconcertingly familiar.

There are certainly some memorable stories in this compact collection. As a whole, however, readers may be left with a feeling that the stories collapse into one another and share similarities in terms of diction and tone that undermine the distinctiveness of each individual piece of work. Nonetheless, in these short stories, LaRocca proves that he is a new voice in horror worthy of attention. With a new novella—We Can Never Leave This Place—on the horizon for 2022, it is safe to say that Eric LaRocca will continue to be on the horror world’s radar for the foreseeable future. 

Eric LaRocca. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke (Review)

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.