While Eric Larocca has quietly been gaining acclaim over the last few years with his fiction and poetry, it wasn’t until earlier this year that his name seemed to be on the lips of every indie horror fan with the unmitigated success of his devastating queer horror novella, ‘Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke’. With sell-outs at the publisher, reviews coming through in the thousands, and incredible word of mouth from some of the industry’s biggest names, the book is all but guaranteed top spot in many of 2021s ‘best of’ lists and, more importantly, has marked Larocca out as an incredible new talent to watch.

With expectations now sky high for his follow-up book, all eyes will be on the release of his new short story collection, ‘The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales’. Can this release possibly live up to the insane hype surrounding ‘Things Have Gotten Worse…’? I’m thrilled to report it not only lives up to but exceeds the promise shown in that book.

When Larocca refers to these stories as ‘Dark Tales’, that is no hyperbole. The worlds he has created in these eight tales are pitch black to the point of nihilism, populated with characters capable of depravity beyond comprehension. Make no mistake, ‘The Stange Thing We Become…’ is not a book to be enjoyed and it is not entertaining in the traditional sense. It is, however, an incredible reading experience, each short utterly engrossing and entirely unforgettable in its own way. 

The stories here are all very character-driven and focus on the human condition (you’ll find no otherworldly monsters or bloodthirsty creatures in this book), with a pervading theme of love and desire that remains a consistent presence throughout. Stories such as “The Trees Grew Because I Bled There” present a seemingly innocuous and mundane setting (a conversation between a couple) that gleams its horror from how casual the pair are discussing a subject that horrifies the reader, and how we are slowly fed details on their dysfunctional relationship through dialogue that feels blaise and routine to the characters delivering it. “I’ll Be Gone By Then” takes a similar approach, telling a story of a woman taking care of her elderly mother. This is one of the book’s most disturbing tales simply due to how casually and easily the lead character thinks, and then act upon, impulsive, selfish and ultimately despicable notions. Larocca doesn’t judge his characters (he leaves that to his reader) and this detachment is what makes these stories work so well as they leave the reader to feel the emotions that the characters should.

Strangely, the collection’s most tender and uplifting stories are the ones that bookend it. Make no mistake, they still pack a punch, but there is a tenderness underneath the heart-breaking (“You Follow Wherever They Go”) and taboo (“Please Leave or I’m Going To Hurt You”) subject matter that isn’t always present in the harder and more downbeat stories between them.

Fans of ‘Things Have Gotten Worse’ will revel in the familiarity of the title story (“The Strange Thing We Become”) which plays with the same format (this time told as a one-way stream of posts as opposed to a series of e-mails and responses) with equally effective results. What works differently here is getting one side of the story, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps which, for me at least, made the story more immersive and left you wanting to re-read in order to pick up on the subtle hints that may have been missed the first time around.

Picking a favourite feels almost pointless because there’s so little to distinguish each expertly crafted short from the next, but “Bodies Are For Burning” is probably the collection’s stand-out for me and it is a masterclass in building tension, so much so that it’s the only story that I had to put down midway through and revisit later because things got so intense. I can’t think of any other author since Jack Ketchum where I have had such a visceral reaction to something I’ve read. The story’s success is in hinting at something unthinkable in the opening paragraphs, then putting its character in a situation where the unthinkable becomes not only possible but gut-wrenching feasible. It makes the reader almost unbearably anxious as things escalate slowly but surely, making you believe you are going to read something so abominable and appalling, even as a seasoned horror reader you can’t believe the author will actually go there. Whether they do or not is not something I’ll be spoiling here.

I will also be remiss if the special mention didn’t go to “You’re Not Supposed To Be Here” for being another contender for the book’s best short. Unlike many other tales presented here, which put an anarchic spin on an everyday setting, this short was more high-concept, throwing its characters into an outlandish situation and seeing how they reacted. This story of a married couple with a young child looks at the steps they would go to in order to protect their loved ones (a theme which is also covered in the, also excellent, “Where Flames Burned Emerald As Grass”). It was a nice change of pace to switch from contemptible characters in a routine situation to a generally likeable cast becoming increasingly embroiled in something altogether more unusual.

I rarely declare any book a ‘must read’. The enjoyment of fiction is so dependant on personal taste. I would, however, regardless of your own horror preferences, highly recommend reading Eric Laroccas’ work, and ‘The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales’ is a perfect starting point. It is an unsettling, upsetting, disturbing work, completely original and hugely assured and thoroughly deserving of any and all acclaim coming it’s way.

Richard Martin

Richard Martin


Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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