The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales by Eric LaRocca

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Two of these stories had appeared in a limited edition (now super rare book) ‘A Bright Enchanted Suffering’ which Eric pulled from publication at the very moment it was about to go live. So I’d read those two before, but I was very excited to see if the other stories he’d been compiling would stand up to those two bangers because believe me, when I read those last year, damn I was waxing lyrical about them – and then he went and dropped ‘Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke’ from Weird Punk Books and now his star is shining bright and shining like it should be because LaRocca is a major talent in the horror / dark fiction realm!

This is a wonderful collection that looks at the various shades of the human condition, it is a collection that holds a mirror up to society, to those of us that feel unseen, or are too damaged to believe anyone can see us and our plight – it’s a collection of stories about connection and belonging, about love and destruction about all the many faceted things we humans do for love, life and survival – and in the end what we become.

LaRocca’s writing in ‘The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales’ is hauntingly poetic and lyrical (I appear to always be saying this about his work, because it’s true). With prose that is scalpel sharp but always raw and always brutally honest, LaRocca shows us the darkness that resides in humanity, and forces us to take in every last bit of its horrific beauty until we are choking for air!

You Follow Wherever They Go – This is a gut wrenching story, where it is more the unsaid that is truly unsettling. We get small glimpses of the bigger picture here, whilst there are also some delicious passages and throw away lines that uncover more of the story in glorious detail. There are as always delightfully constructed prose that at times feels as if you’re reading poetry rather than fiction, but I love that stuff!

Bodies Are For Burning – Our protagonist has a predilection for starting fires, for burning things, for reducing things to carbon, so what happens when they are entrusted to look after a small child… this is LaRocca so all bets are off, but you can be guaranteed you will be out through the ringer with this one! There are some quite fabulously squeamish moments early on, which I absolutely loved – these are descriptions by LaRocca of injury detail and they are just gorgeously put across! Anyway, this story is crazy good… I’ll leave it there before I give away too much! ‘Sometimes you have to do something horrible to prevent something even worse from happening.’

The Strange Thing We Become – The structure of this story is quickly becoming a LaRocca trademark (epistolary emails – Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke & another novella I’ve read of his but can’t speak about). I love this format, some people dislike it, but on the whole it’s a great way to write, as many of us spend our lives writing emails, it has a way of pulling us into the world and lives LaRocca wants us to inhabit and explore. This ones dark, and I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) it pre-dates THGWSWLS – but you can see that the dark threads of this story could have been the genesis of that dark tale that’s taken the horror genre by storm!

The Trees Grew Because I Bled There – How much of yourself do you give away when you find the one that makes you whole, how much do you surrender, how much do you bend and fall in line, how much heartache, despair, pain and suffering do we suffer to make another whole – how much do we love the ones that destroy us. This ones a hard hitting piece that breaks your heart whilst mashing your face into broken shards of glass… brutal and brilliant!

You’re Not Supposed To Be Here – A married couple Vince and Terry are at the park with their son Philip when a couple approach them – Lyric and Melody who want to play a little game.

This story is just balls to the wall brilliant. I had no idea where it was going and LaRocca just threw me around like a ragdoll – I was putty in his hands as I read this beautifully crafted and disturbing story of what parents would do to protect what they cherish most.

A remarkable story that further cements the brilliant mind of one of my favourite indie writers. LaRocca blows away the competition with this story. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Lyric, because to me he reminded me in his mannerisms and creepiness of the old guy from Poltergeist (he’s not that old) it was just the way he talked, the way he moved, the way he acted and the way he had something he was hiding – it was creepy and I bloody loved it.

The next time a stranger asks to play a game at the park when you’re with your children, be afraid, be very afraid.

Where Flames Burned Emerald As Grass – Norval Dowling is holidaying with his daughter Cassie. He’s lamenting his current predicament whilst writing a letter beside the pool to his lover and his recently found soulmate. But Norval is plagued by worry, it’s eating him up because he knows that if he tells his daughter she will never forgive him from moving on from her dead mother, she also never forgive him for falling into the welcoming arms of his new lover, a man.

A stranger appears after his daughter hurts herself and presents Norval with a way out, a way to change everything and give Cassie what she desires most, whilst also freeing Norval to pursue his love and life and purpose with his lover.

I’ll Be Gone By Then – This is a beautifully macabre tale about surviving your childhood and as an adult how those ties that bind are hard to break, but if you don’t sever those binds they’ll drag you down into the undertow of despair. There is a marvellous scene in this story involving some particular Golden Arches and a decision that is made, and I just love how LaRocca splices the mundane with the brutal and the innocuous – this scene is made even more horrific because of the simplicity it is written in and just LaRocca’s observations! Dark and brilliant.

Please Leave Or I’m Going To Hurt You – This story is bleak and utterly dark, taboo subject matter but fabulously written – it was wrong but it broke my heart in the process. It deals with the themes of incest, but in that dark and troubling issue LaRocca brings beauty to this most perverse act that shatters ones heart.

Eric LaRocca is the dark prince of the horror genre, a unique, brave and masterful writer who unsettles the reader time and time again with his imagination and then comforts us with his beautifully crafted prose!

Published by Off Limits Press

Eric LaRocca

Eric LaRocca (he/they) is the author of several works of dark fiction and poetry. Eric is represented by Ryan Lewis/Spin a Black Yarn for Film and Television. For more information, please follow @ejlarocca on Twitter or visit ericlarocca.com.

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