The Moral Terror of Eric LaRocca’s Short Stories

"The Trees Grew Because I Bled There" cover

In a 2022 interview with Cemetary Dance, Eric LaRocca discussed their approach to writing — and, more specifically, writing horror. “That would be a failure for me as an artist, if I left you feeling indifferent to whatever you just read,” LaRocca said. “I had failed in my capacity to tell a story that shook you and made you think and maybe disgusted you, maybe just made you feel something. That’s what I try to do with any of my work.”

The stories in LaRocca’s collection The Trees Grew Because I Bled There give a fantastic sense of what that approach looks like put into practice. Some of the horrors here are literal, while others are psychological or spiritual, but what binds them together is a sense of characters being pushed to their limits — and facing jarring moral reckonings.

“You’re Not Supposed to Be Here,” the collection’s most unsettling story, opens on a blissful scene — married couple Vince andTerry are enjoying a day in the park with their child Philip when they’re approached by an avuncular man named Lyric. Something seems off about this man — including, but not limited to, what appears to be a recent wound on his hand. He introduces his wife, Melody, and if you think that blend of the visceral and the twee is ever-so-slightly dissonant, rest assured that things get much worse from there.

Unlike points elsewhere in the collection, “You’re Not Supposed to Be Here” doesn’t contain any supernatural elements, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks a trenchant feature of some great horror fiction — the sense of menacing forces that are just out of sight, their motives mysterious and sinister.

There’s also a component of ritual to this story, and that’s something that recurs throughout the stories within this book. The characters in “Where Flames Burned Emerald as Grass” are also faced with an impossible moral choice, and one that seems dictated by unspoken rules of a game that they haven’t been made aware of. The title story, too, turns familiar (and familial) relations on their head, transforming predictable dynamics into something truly harrowing.

There’s something visceral and fresh about these stories, but LaRocca also throws in a handful of nods to the history of uncanny fiction. This is best exemplified by “The Strange Thing We Become,” which is told via a series of online posts — but which also makes room for a nod to M.R. James’s “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” Like this collection, it’s a powerful blend of old and new.


The Trees Grew Because I Bled There
by Eric LaRocca
Titan Books; 208 p.

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