They Were Here Before Us: A Review in Pieces

Horror master Eric LaRocca is back with an anthology of short stories, They Were Here Before Us: A Novella in Pieces.

My favorite horror author Eric LaRocca is back with their newest release just in time for Halloween. Entitled They Were Here Before Us, a Novella in Pieces, it features a total of 6 short stories. I decided that instead of giving one general review to the collection as a whole, I would follow Eric’s lead and give my review in pieces. Spoilers Ahead.

All That Remains is Yours to Keep

LaRocca starts off their collection with a story that centers around a beetle who has  fallen into an obsession with the dead young woman his family is feeding on. This beetle is truly the Joe Goldberg of beetles; the way this little guy describes his feelings for the woman as love, only to recount their words, saying love was not intense enough to describe his feelings for her. The story follows his decision to stay with her long after his family leaves to find a new host to feed on. The imagery that LaRocca uses to really help the reader picture the day-to-day life of the beetle as he lives on and “protects” this woman is absolutely disgusting in a really beautiful way. Some of the images he paints still pop into my head from time to time ever since my first read through. I will say that this story does hit on the very delicate topic of pregnancy, so if you have a hard time with that subject, be warned before embarking into this one.

Rating: 5/5

Delicacies from a First Communion

I can’t even get into my review of this one before putting the biggest trigger warning for beastiality. If you do not want to hear beastiality discussed, do not continue reading this piece of my review, and certainly do not read this piece from LaRocca’s novella.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, this one is from the perspective of a pet chimpanzee named Enkidu, who’s owner Edgar has just passed away and is now in the care of Edgar’s lover Cy. Cy hates Enkidu, and the chimp is pondering how his life will be now that his owner is dead. That is when it is made extremely clear and quickly that this chimp and Edgar had sexual relations, and they had them often. I will say I was not expecting to read anything about beastiality and luckily for me (and hopefully every reader) there is no sex scene between any human or animal. I did enjoy the way that LaRocca handled this subject matter, as it did not feel like a justification or glorification, it felt more like a snapshot of depravity.

Rating: 4/5

A God Made of Straw

This story centers around a bird who has made her nest in the body of a scarecrow, and finds her babies under attack by a local human. The first time the boy finds her nest, he plucks one of her eggs right out and smashes it. The next time he returns, the remaining eggs have all hatched and the boy takes pleasure in slaughtering them in horrendous ways, all while their mother watches on helplessly praying for the scarecrow they live in to help them o her surprise, just after the boy slays her last baby, the scarecrow slays him. When I tell you this story made me cry, I absolutely mean it. I was crying ugly gross tears and I don’t have a motherly bone in my body. The way that LaRocca captures the guilt and grief of the mother bird is so beautifully tragic, and makes this a short story to cry with.

Rating: 5/5

To Hurt the Weakest One

In this story, we follow a mother that is the exact opposite of the mother bird in A God Made of Straw. This is about a family of some kind of smaller desert rodent that need to migrate with their colony. The only problem is that they have one runt of the family, Tol, and the mother is tasked with staying with him during the migration. Doesn’t seem that terrible, right? Well, this mother hates her son- and plans to kill him when he isn’t strong enough to keep up with the group. She follows through on that plan with no remorse at all. I think what LaRocca is able to accomplish by having these stories from the perspective of animals is giving the audience a way to read about horrible acts like killing your own child, without a human element to it. Doing so allows for readers to consume the story with a level of disconnect, so readers can more easily attempt to understand the mother’s point-of-view, which I did enjoy.

Rating : 4.5/5

Bird and Bug are Happy

Holy shit, Eric did it again. They created a haunting sapphic horror story. I am going to try my best to not include many spoilers in this review because I absolutely adore this one and think anyone that likes horror needs to pick it up asap. This story centers around an older lesbian couple, Bird and Bug. Bird is an artist suffering from some type of memory loss and Bug is her wife and caretaker. Bird’s condition is getting worse and as she loses her memory more and more; she starts saying things about a past lover that cause Bug to grow increasingly more insecure until it becomes deadly. LaRocca creates beautiful imagery in the descriptions of Bug’s growing insecurity, especially surrounding aging and how it destroys her in the end. Something I always appreciate in Eric’s work is the fact that all of these characters are not only queer, but already established as queer. Their characters are already out and living their queer lives, which is so refreshing as much of queer representation centers around the discovery of ones queerness. Eric never makes their character’s queerness the reason for their suffering, which may lead some people to question why a character’s queerness matters in a horror story; and to that I say it does not, but it is nice to be represented in all forms of media because queer people exist everywhere in the real world- why not in horror too? 

Rating: 10/5

When It’s Dark Out

This last one is a punch to the gut. It centers around a father, Marcus, and his blind son, Julian, as they are derailed on their way to the hospital to see a man who’s very important to both of them, Julian’s father and Marcus’ husband. When I say derailed, I mean they are almost shredded to bits by a giant black balloon-like monster outside of a toll area. This poor duo have to face quite a few horrendous scenarios throughout this short story, but the imagery and the father’s love for his son make the final story in the novella a beautiful conclusion. I think the order in which LaRocca put these in was perfection and I’m really glad that we ended on an uplifting (I say that so loosely) finale. 

Rating: 5/5

In Conclusion

If you read the interview I did with LaRocca, you will know that I am a huge fan of theirs and that I have a tattoo dedicated to one of their earlier works; Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke (please also read that by the way). So I will not say that this review is unbiased. It is, however, incredibly honest and with that being said, I cannot blindly recommend this novella to everyone and anyone. There are incredibly dark subject matter, that include fetal death, homophobia, parents murdering their children, and beastiality- so I do recommend this to people who are fully aware of the contents of this book because it is stunning. The way Eric does handle these topics is so perfectly balanced that to me, it never felt like it was glorified, justified, or too much in any way and if you can handle the subjects I urge you to pick this one up upon the release. 

They Were Here Before Us: A Novella in Pieces by Eric LaRocca publishes October 25, 2022 and is available for preorder now at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.

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