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Give me all the Queer horror you can shovel into my TBR pile. It doesn’t have to be the sole focus of the story, even just a wee mention of a queer coupling or small inclusion of queer culture and I’m happy.
Queer representation when I was growing up was Jack on Will and Grace and Willow Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each an icon (Willow especially, those Season Six finale episodes are television I still go back to!) but two very typical inclusions of queer culture (cis-white man, cis-white woman).

When I first heard of Eric LaRocca’s novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, it was in my Amazon basket in a heartbeat. What I got when I read it, however, was…

I don’t really know to be honest.

A Summary of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

SADOMASOCHISM. OBSESSION. DEATH. These words greet any potential reader the moment their hand turns the book. And, in a way, this is what you get within these 112 pages of quite frankly, weird, semi-horror, notations collated in a faux-docu style by a presumed fake author.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

Agnes and Zoe find themselves connected through, of all things, an antique apple peeler on a queer website back in the early 2000s. The time this novella is set is impeccable, and for an author who looks so young, it is a testament to their abilities as a writer how immersive they have rooted their story in the early days of the internet.

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Agnes, the seller of the peeler, is down on her luck and doesn’t want to part with the heirloom but needs to pay her rent. Zoe, a quasi-guy from Fifty Shades of Grey-esque figure gets into a dialogue with her and ends up paying her without wanting the peeler at all (win/win). Sidebar: I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t know the name of the character Jamie Dornan plays, and nor do I want to, so you get the jist.

What spills from this initial conversation is a Dom/Sub relationship that involves no physical, and little imitations towards, sex but is instead focussed on the power and control of one woman over the other.

And that’s all I can really say without spoiling the entire thing.

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Construction of the Novella

Where this novella excels is in the way Eric LaRocca (a fantastic author’s name btw) builds their novel with only emails and IM chats. When I learned about epistolary novels, I didn’t like them. It felt lazy and uninspired. I am happy to say that Eric LaRocca’s novella has changed my opinion wholly.

The intricacies of language, the introduction of detail via memory and recollection, are inspired pieces of writing that show a great intimacy between LaRocca and their characters.

The complications of eschewing immediacy and anchoring text within the present for verbatim transcriptions makes for very difficult writing. And yet this novella flows wonderfully, with clearly marked entrances and exits from each character’s dialogue to ensure that we always know who’s talking, and always understand the emotion behind the words.

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That’s not to say that the constant time stamps and email address repetition was read meticulously in the one sitting it took me to finish this novella, because I indeed did not do that. But it would have been hard for LaRocca to structure their narrative without it. So, there’s nothing to forgive.

What’s smart about this form of writing is that it is both nostalgic and innovative. As you glance through the pages, you begin to remember snippets of your own IM’s back in High School, and are equally glad that they have been lost to the annuls of the internet.

By giving a brief Author’s Note at the beginning of the novella (the one I presume is written by a fictitious writer) qualifies everything you read after it in a way that makes you feel like you are trespassing.

The Brilliance of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

None of these words were supposed to be read by anyone else; yet they were written for publication. This dichotomy plays at the centre of the reader’s response to this novella.

We know that this didn’t happen. But we suspend our disbelief and believe that it did. In doing this, in a way that other horror novels do not, we become active peeping toms in the lives of two women we do not know, never will know, and who shared an extraordinarily short, yet damning, experience together that was intended to remain private.

— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —

Further explore these subgenres & tropes. more>>
#Meta horror | #Sex & gender horror

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In doing this Eric LaRocca’s knowledge of the wider discussions around horror becomes evident. Academically speaking, investigations into the way horror filmmakers and writers create their terror with the audience in mind is becoming more established every day. Films such as Hostel and others tarnished with the “Torture Porn” label are being lambasted as sick peepshows for those who actually want to watch violence on the screen. Of course, this is simply untrue.

What is actually happening (although Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke cannot be labelled as “Torture Porn”) are new techniques in audience immersion. Constant franchises and ridiculous kill counts have cheapened a genre that relies on audience participation in a way that most other genres do not. LaRocca, through their construction of their novella, shows a deep insight into this ongoing debate and is instinctually correct to bring it into the written word.

My Response to the Novella

There’s little, if anything, I can comment on the actual narrative of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke without spoiling large chunks of it. Structurally, I found it (obviously) innovative and quite brilliant.

Creatively, however, I didn’t enjoy this novella. The lack of balance, the repeated narrative techniques, and the overall content were uneven for a piece of literature this short. That’s not to say others won’t enjoy it – you perhaps? – they will! And that’s great. Because as Nicki Minaj once said, “These labels look at numbers and statistics / I lose, You lose / Mama, it’s logistics”.

In short, WE NEED MORE QUEER HORROR.

Last Updated on November 10, 2021.

Conner McAleese
Conner McAleese is a current PhD student at the University of Dundee studying 'spaces' in contemporary horror. His debut novel, The Goose Mistress, was published in 2018 by Dark Ink Press and details Eva Braun's experience of World War Two. McAleese now considers himself a horror writer and has had his short stories published in Blood Rites Magazine and Haunting Voices among others. He looks to the 'disturbing' for inspiration, hoping to academically push back the last taboos in literature to analyse what they represent for today's cultural fears and anxieties. However, he hopes to balance this with a satisfying and long career in horror writing. He currently lives in Dundee and is working on his first horror novel.

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