I discovered Eric LaRocca just last year, with the one-two punch of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, and We Can Never Leave This Place. I had this to say about that second amazing book:
If, through some infernal alchemy, the DNA of Franz Kafka, William Burroughs, and Clive Barker, were combined, and the resultant child was raised in a haunted house, on a steady diet of Hershel Gordon Lewis and David Cronenberg movies, EC and manga comics, Grimms’ fairytales, and powerful hallucinogens; and if that child grew up to be a writer, they might, just might, create something like We Can Never Leave This Place.
After devouring LaRocca’s newest collection of eight short stories, The Trees Grew Because I Bled There, I’d like to add the DNA of two more authors—Poppy Z. Brite and Roald Dahl. Like Brite, LaRocca is both uncompromising and unflinching in his descriptions of the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on each other. In fact, the last time I read a book that gave me this level of—let’s call it exhilarating discomfort—was while reading Exquisite Corpse. And like Dahl, LaRocca’s characters are acid tongued and black hearted.
The stories themselves are, each and every one, disquieting and unnerving. Despite the varied settings, they are weirdly intimate in nature, rooted in despair and trauma. Happiness is in short supply here. Like I said, exhilarating discomfort. They are also clearly and unapologetically queer. There is gut-wrenching body horror, and LaRocca never allows you to look away.
The stories are uniformly strong, but I do want to call out a couple that truly got me. Bodies Are for Burning is near the beginning of the book, and it lets you know just what you’re in for. It will fuck you up. The Strange Thing We Became is a devastating, desperate portrait of disease and loss. And Where Flames Burned Emerald as Grass is a fever dream as horrible as it is inevitable.
The Trees Grew Because I Bled There releases March 7, 2023, and is available now for pre-order. For fans of uncompromising horror, this is a must.