Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric Larocca

Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric Larocca HORROR BOOK REVIEW

For an author that’s become something of a name in horror lit recently, it’s worth remembering that Larocca is still just beginning their professional career, and a debut novel is going to have awkward parts as the author hones their craft

Justin Allec

Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric Larocca

A Horror Book Review by Justin Allec

Everything the Darkness Eats, the first novel from celebrated short-story writer Eric Larocca, is a strange beast. A relatively short book at just over two-hundred pages, EtDE impresses using a pulpy dual-narrative structure led by characters that don’t often appear in horror. There’s a lot that’s familiar in EtDE for the seasoned horror lover, especially if you have any love for 70s paperbacks with jagged silver titles and red-hued churches. Larocca’s working hard here to update that era of the genre with characters cut from the present, but he doesn’t give himself enough space to completely succeed: a story centered in a town like this needs space to sprawl. It’s occasionally frustrating, but I would still recommend EtDE to deliver some varied scares, both supernatural and oppressive.

The first character we meet in a prologue is our antagonist, Heart Crowley, a name so conspicuous only ‘Dark’ or ‘De Vil’ would be bigger flags. Opening with an anthropological dig is always a welcome way to introduce some ancient evil, and Crowley is a villain who loves twirling his mustache. Larocca’s writing shows that this is an evil man who wants to do evil, and his charmingly amoral speeches, dandified dress, and dismissive regard for human life put him alongside other nefarious old men akin to Leland Gaunt and Joseph Whitehead.

Those comparisons to King and Barker are intentional, I feel, because when we are introduced to our main characters, they both seem to be inhabiting places adjacent to those authors’ canonical horror works. Instead of Castle Rock, though, we’re welcomed to Henley’s Edge. We first meet Ghost, a widowed man broken in body and spirit, who feels deserving of his intense pain due to the circumstances of his accident and latent sexual urges. Ghost is mainly focused on past trauma, but a chance encounter at the hospital with a young woman named Gemma and her daughter shakes his depressive world up in a fun way. In another part of town lives Sargent Nadeem Malik, a gay Muslim police officer. Malik is happily married to Brett and apparently busy investigating the mysterious disappearances of several elderly residents. Malik and Brett are blissfully domestic, though Brett’s desire to adopt a child makes Malik more than aware of how their relationship is perceived by the neighboring community.

It’s a strong set-up, but I had to continuously check my expectations moving forward. Without spoiling much, the expected team-up of Malik and Ghost doesn’t really happen. Instead, our two main characters largely follow their own narratives without any idea of the other. Ghost, now sort-of enamored with Gemma but also still feeling guilty about his dead wife, falls into Crowley’s clutches and decides to help the old man, hoping to benefit from a bizarre god-poking ritual. Meanwhile, Malik’s police work, which you think would bring him into a collision course with Crowley, is tossed aside when he and Brett are subjected to escalating violence for the crime of simply existing as a gay couple.

The two narratives alternate chapters, and while their stories are interesting enough, the lack of connection became distracting for me. Larocca’s almost telling two different kinds of pulp stories. Ghost’s story is all swinging 70s cult references and sex magic tied up with the kind of grief narratives that propel a lot of modern horror, while Malik’s touches on the hard reality of frightening suburban conformity and revenge that really, really does not work out. As well, Larocca keeps the action focused on our main characters almost exclusively. EtDE is tightly focused on telling us about Malik and Ghost but leaves out showing bigger parts of their world. If Henley’s Edge is a stand-in for small-town Americana, it feels curiously empty. Malik’s story, in particular, would benefit from a few more supporting characters and escalating incidents. For example, we’re told the neighbors hate the couple, but we never actually see Malik and one of them interact to sell the ensuing hate crimes, instead using Malik’s superior after the fact as a tut-tutting stand-in for hideous heteronormality. Applause to Larocca for handling the aftermath of these hateful events with compassion and deftness—the emotional discussion Malik and Brett have in the hospital about revenge and forgiveness is stellar—but how the couple get to that point seems rushed.

Given the pulp foundations, I expected some purple-ish prose. Impressively, Larocca shifts modes within the stories while keeping the writing stable. It shows me that they’re aware of how to tell the story, especially using the genre traditions. The slightest hint of romance, for example, leads to lines that would be at home in a Brenda Joyce bodice-ripper, while the intrusion of violence maybe a page later and handled in the same voice makes the ensuing description even more chilling. Where the style falters is at Ghost’s most existential moments, the lush language undercutting the hard understanding of his one-sided debate with an uncaring deity.

For an author that’s become something of a name in horror lit recently, it’s worth remembering that Larocca is still just beginning their professional career, and a debut novel is going to have awkward parts as the author hones their craft. Whatever complaints I’ve lodged above might not matter to other readers, as Larocca is more than capable of spinning a great and secretive show, be it realistic, sexualized violence or heady ritualistic shenanigans.

Review by Justin Allec

https://amzn.to/3X7vIh7Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric Larocca

Clash Books

202 pages

Print ISBN: 978-1-955904-27-8

A haunting and horror-filled tale of loneliness, trauma and spiritual yearning from the award-winning author of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes.

An insidious darkness threatens to devastate a rural New England village when occult forces are conjured and when bigotry is left unrestrained. After a recent string of disappearances in a small Connecticut town, a grieving widower with a grim secret is drawn into a dangerous ritual of dark magic by a powerful and mysterious older gentleman named Heart Crowley. Meanwhile, a member of local law enforcement tasked with uncovering the culprit responsible for the bizarre disappearances soon begins to learn of a current of unbridled hatred simmering beneath the guise of the town’s idyllic community—a hatred that will eventually burst and forever change the lives of those who once found peace in the quiet town of Henley’s Edge.

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