We can never leave this place - By Eric LaRocca
ARC copy courtesy of Sadie Hartmann and Eric LaRocca
I posted a while ago that I needed time to think about this book, and wanted to commit to that promise of a review to both Eric and Sadie, from whom I gratefully received an ARC copy. The fact that a lot of people have similarly posted they need time to process the novella, shows that it’s something that requires retrospection. This, then, is my first best attempt at that process.
LaRocca (he of the attention-grabbing, well thought out novella titles) has a reputation for thinking outside of the box. That was evident in the fabulously celebrated “Things have gotten worse since we last spoke” – a novella in Epistolary form, and in his “Starving ghosts in every thread”, which tied some very strange story elements into a many-legged beast that screamed for attention. I liked them both, THGWSWLS more so – but I feel that’s down to Eric really getting comfortable in his presentation. The more you do, the better you become, and THGWSWLS hit a starving audience at exactly the right time, and it went viral – rightfully so – and frankly, it’s fabulous to see Eric blooming in these early days. I don’t say that from a superior position – rather the opposite – Eric’s giddy heights are awe-inspiring from down here. So what new invention has Eric brought to the table this time around?
LaRocca delves into surreal territory here. He presents a base situation that is dire – an impoverished family, trapped in a crumbling building in a war-torn country, where in the opening scene, the father is shot and his body is brought to the apartment where his wife and a daughter live. The trauma of losing a husband/father is played out to effect, the underlying themes of grief, blame, trauma, and guilt layered on the table. The apartment is itself a battlefield, open sewage streams (when remembered) through parts of the apartment. The walls are hollow and filled with crawl spaces. The Mother shows open hostility to the MC, Mara, as she deals with her father’s death – a death the mother places on the shoulders of her Daughter.
So the surreal stage is set, and then LaRocca adds another element – guests.
The guests take the form of bizarre creatures. Giant spiders. Insects. Presented as it is, the reader is aware that this form is probably not a true representation of reality – that the trauma of the events has probably manifested these beings as they appear. That – or there really are giant talking spiders and similar creatures.
The tale winds on, each guest bringing stress and guilt, whilst the mother performs bizarre rituals with the guests (some of which are clearly metaphors for sexual acts, others seemingly metaphorical descriptions for the handing over parts of one’s soul to another person – of losing parts of yourself until it is too late to turn back.
Here’s the thing. It’s a fight.
I felt conflicted – taking the story on a purely “literary” base – word for word, it presents the magical as commonplace, and that those creatures and insects are intrinsically evil plays on our own judgments – people are scared of spiders, for example. Is it then wrong of us to assume that a spider is evil – or worse when seeing a series of events that hint at that conclusion, is it bad of us to hesitate in our judgment? By making these creatures animals and insects, the humanity of the personality is likewise removed. They become stereotyped shadows of their own potential. Are we, in fact, eviller for our ignoral of their actual personalities, concentrating on what we want to believe, cherry-picking interpretations of their actions to fit our picture?
There’s the other side, of course. Are we watching through Mara’s traumatized eyes as she pictures people as caricatures, better to process her own trauma? If that is the case – why then are other people (the mother, for example) also not transformed?
As I said, it’s a fight. It elevates the novel, by all accounts. I know this interpretation – this seeing through the illusion is the point of the novel. It is a presentation of an illusion as reality to better exemplify trauma, loss, grief, and its associated emotions.
It works, but it’s work.
The reader knows that this is not a simple story. The layers of meaning demand to be addressed. The retrospection required makes the reading process longer – and that retrospection isn’t always comfortable.
I kind of want to stay in the unreal world, take the insects at face value, and deal with the last two humans on the planet in a warzone, each hating the other. It’s not hard to picture, it is an easy representation.
The other way is so messy. As we are. Humans are a mess, we leave a mess, and there is nothing pretty about the mess we leave behind.
Brilliant, Eric. But not comfortable. Illuminating, but vague.
I still don’t know if I liked this or not. It is a chameleon that demands, perhaps, a clearer mind to review it. I am full of doubt about my own interpretation of the events in the story. And even taking that interpretation, I am not sure there are any characters in the novel to associate with – nothing likable – nothing and nobody untainted.
As I said – it’s one that will bring out the thinker in you, and gleefully make you question exactly what it is that you just read.
A hesitant 4 out of 5 ⭐'s. I still don’t know if I could read it again. Eric’s books have that effect on you – you are glad you read them, but doubly so that it’s over.
Keep them coming.
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