TITLE: The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales
AUTHOR: Eric LaRocca
AGE RANGE: Adult
The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales collects eight stories of literary dark fiction. Tense and terrifying, these masterful stories by Eric LaRocca explore the shadow side of love.
I wanted to post this review a couple of weeks ago, but honestly, I adored this collection so much that I needed to sit on my thoughts before I could even attempt to do it justice. First and foremost, I need you to know that this is my favorite read of 2021 so far, hands down. Eric has become an all-time favorite author for me and I’m forever in awe of the depths of horror and tragedy their stories reach, time and time again. ♥
The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales is a collection of horror short stories, and these stories cover a wide range of topics and characters. In most short story collections, some pieces are stronger while others are weaker; however, in this one, I’m looking through the notes I took while reading these stories and I literally gave each and every one 5 stars all on its own. With a collection this powerful, each piece deserves a moment of attention.
1. You Follow Wherever They Go
This first story is so damn sad and heavy, and it really kicks off this collection with a bang and lets you know you’re in for quite a ride. Told through the story of a child whose father is ill, there’s a strange, ominous atmosphere that filled me with a sense of dread from the very first paragraph, and never let up.
2. Bodies Are for Burning
This story brings in the element of shock that Eric’s readers are accustomed to, as it follows a character who is plagued by endless intrusive desires to burn people around them. Despite how violent and terrible the narrator’s internal monologue is, I found myself feeling sorry for them at times, especially as someone who has OCD and deals with intrusive thoughts as well (of a very different and milder nature, thankfully).
Side note: This particular installment in the collection “shouldn’t” have worked for me as it strongly involves my only trigger, but this story (and Eric’s last novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke) taught me that I’ve reached a point in my life where I am able to sometimes separate myself from a topic emotionally enough to enjoy the story without being triggered by the content, which is a lesson I was incredibly grateful to learn.
“Each thing we love takes a little piece of us whether we give it willingly or not. By the time we find the person we were meant to be with, we’re a honeycombed shell of what we once were. Each person we love turns us into the strange thing we become.”
3. The Strange Thing We Become
This piece will be noteworthy for my fellow Things Have Gotten Worse lovers, as it’s told through online journal postings. It follows a couple dealing with one member of the couple being diagnosed as terminally ill, and the havoc it wreaks upon her desperate desires to have a child before she passes. I was especially fond of how humanly flawed the narrator is; despite knowing their spouse is terminally ill, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, and their cynicism towards the situation added an element of shocking reality.
4. The Trees Grew Because I Bled There
Absolutely one of my top-tier favorites in a collection of favorite stories. There isn’t much I can say about this installment without giving the whole thing away, but it’s graphic, viscerally painful in both a physical and emotional sense, and wraps up with the most perfectly satisfying ending I could imagine.
5. You’re Not Supposed to Be Here
Part horror, part thriller, this story had me on the edge of my seat with my heart in my throat the entire time. A couple takes their child to the park and is approached by odd-acting strangers, only to have their child abducted as they are forced into a terrifying “game” to win their child back. As a parent reading this, knowing that I, too, would give anything to keep my son safe, I couldn’t reach the ending fast enough and found myself amazed at how much care went into crafting this mesmerizing installment. (Of all the stories, I would most enjoy seeing this as a short film, because it would translate flawlessly to the screen!)
6. Where Flames Burned Emerald as Grass
This story felt so different from the previous ones at the beginning that it surprised me; it feels optimistic and fairly laid-back in the beginning, following a father and daughter on vacation when the daughter is injured, and a strange man comes forward to help her before making a shocking offer to our narrator, the father. This is another one I can’t say much about without spoiling!
7. I’ll Be Gone by Then
This next-to-last piece follows an adult whose ailing, elderly mother has come to live with them for the rest of her days, and explores the theme of a prodigal child growing up and being dragged reluctantly back into the fold. Yet again, I’m blown away by Eric’s ability to write these tremendously flawed, unlikable protagonists and still keep me glued to every word on every page.
That was perhaps the single most repeated phrase I had heard throughout the course of my life — “Please leave or I’m going to hurt you.”
8. Please Leave or I’m Going to Hurt You
Something in me suspects this is going to be one of the most controversial installments in this collection, but it just might be my favorite of them all. I’ve never read a story that tackles incest in this way, and I found myself stunned by how much nuance Eric managed to pack into these few melancholy pages. Our narrator and his elderly father are on a hike to visit the gravesite his father wants to be buried in, and during their journey, we explore the protagonist’s memories and feelings for this figure he was never meant to love in such a way. While I would have hoped this could go unsaid, I know how the internet works, and I’ll be very clear: neither my review nor this story are glorifying incest or promoting the idea of it; that aside, this final piece is a genuinely tragic, compelling, beautiful piece of art and I’m still in awe that Eric could weave this story from these elements. Eric LaRocca has become an all-time favorite author of mine, and this is my favorite singular piece they’ve released thus far.
All in all, The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales is one of the single greatest short story collections I have ever picked up, and I’m already desperately feeling the need to revisit it. I kept getting distracted while reading my notes for this review, because those notes kept tugging me back to certain scenes and I would have to read them all over again before I could move on to summarizing the next story. It’s that good. I’m absolutely amazed by the stories and characters Eric creates, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. ♥
parent loss, spouse loss, terminal illness/cancer, violence, murder, torture/mutilation, abusive relationships, infidelity, kidnapping, miscarriage, elder abuse, incest, thoughts of violence against children/infants, thoughts of matricide
multiple queer characters
— destiny ♥