The Strange Things We Become and Other Dark Tales by Eric LaRocca
Off Limits Press (September 2021)
128 pages; $13 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
Nobody could comfortably follow an act in indie horror fiction like Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, except Eric LaRocca with another release.
Things Have Gotten Worse… broke every record for sales and reviews I have ever seen for an indie release. That book was released in June and just three months later, here we are with The Strange Things We Become.
This is a collection of short, dark fiction plumbing the depths of human emotions. The fascinating thing about LaRocca’s storytelling is his ability to draw on specificity. You won’t find a garden variety love story. Expect the unexpected, but not just something unusual for the sake of being strange — expect the unexpected to probe, pierce, or puncture any barriers or protective layers in place. It’s startling to read characters behaving in some obscene way that feels relatable at the same time.
In the story “Bodies Are For Burning,” the main character struggles with intrusive thoughts. LaRocca exposes the reality of a very real mental health crisis and it’s hard to be in that intimate shared space with someone who is imagining horrific scenarios while in the company of their infant niece. This one lingers.
“The Trees Grew Because I Bled There” is an unsettling imbalance of reciprocity in a relationship. Givers and takers. I loved the escalating tension of the story and the way it pairs with the tone of the narrator. Exquisite.
“You’re Not Supposed to Be Here” was my first real encounter with LaRocca’s work when I read this story in an unreleased book, A Bright Enchanted Suffering:
“This review is spoiler-free, but don’t read the back of the book or other reviews. Trust Mother. A married couple is enjoying a day outdoors at a park with their small child. Their day is interrupted by an odd stranger. Done. That’s all you need to know. Please go! Read! Be shocked and amazing and enjoy.”
This is the story that cemented me as a die-hard LaRocca fan. Love at first read.
The next story, “Where Flames Burned Emerald as Grass,” has a similar setup, so again…no peeking! Enter at your own risk and fully uninformed. A widower and his daughter are vacationing in paradise when they encounter an eccentric individual with a proposal.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about “Please Leave or I’m Going to Hurt You.” This is one of those stories that will live rent-free in your brain for the rest of your life because of the nature of this love story. In just a few pages, LaRocca brilliantly and effortlessly develops a complex, multifaceted incestual relationship. It’s as heartbreaking as it is disturbing and readers will be helpless against LaRocca’s magnetic pull no matter how much you don’t want to know the story. Mesmerizing. I read it twice.