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“EVERYTHING THE DARKNESS EATS” Book Review: A Poignantly Provocative Supernatural Shocker

Following a series of hugely endearing short story collections and novellas, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author Eric LaRocca‘s debut long-form novel, “Everything the Darkness Eats” treats readers to the author’s signature brand of unsettling and unfeigned storytelling, now with the added bonus of a more elaborate exploration of the characters and narrative themes.

By way of an utterly unpredictable, fully-immersive supernatural mystery-thriller, LaRocca explores the ways in which small-town insularity breeds bigotry, and just how painful it can be to be openly gay in conservative communities, as well as tackling other poignant themes of grief, parenting, trauma, and religion.

Taking place in the fictional town of Henley’s Edge, people are suddenly disappearing in strange circumstances. A member of the local police force is tasked to investigate who or what is behind the disappearances and is quickly confronted by a current of unbridled hatred simmering beneath the surface of the town’s idyllic community – a hatred that will eventually erupt and forever change the lives of those who once found peace in the quiet town. Meanwhile, Ghost, a grieving widower with a dark secret, is drawn into a dangerous ritual of dark magic by a powerful and mysterious elderly gentleman named Heart Crowley.

LaRocca interweaves these two parallel stories in a fascinating and brilliantly plotted manner, pulling readers squarely into the mental spaces of the various protagonists. This is pulled off primarily thanks to the author’s uncanny gift for conveying what makes the characters tick in such a way that you cannot help but feel as strongly about the plot predicaments as the protagonists themselves. This is especially true of Malik, an insecure gay policeman who comes face to face with the true horrors of small-town violence, prejudice, and blind eyes. Without giving too much away, he abhors his colleagues’ dismissive response when he and his partner fall victim to hate crimes, with the chief of police even implying that any violence against their persona is their own fault for having behaved inappropriately in public.

Readers are also immersed into the world of the estranged and forlorn character of Ghost, a widower who battles his inner demons on a daily basis whilst simultaneously struggling not to forget his loved ones, especially now that he has lost his wife.

And even though LaRocca places so much emphasis on the torturous relationships the protagonists share with their pervasive negative thought processes, just as was the case in many of their previous short stories, some light shines at the end of this tunnel of torment: Whilst living with constant internal negative thoughts is a living hell, LaRocca also suggests how that can also serve as a shield to defend us from all possible dangers, both internal and external. It’s these sudden revelatory moments about how even the most horrific imaginable emotional afflictions can be viewed in a more optimistic light that quickly made LaRocca one of this reviewer’s favorite authors, as it’s one thing to write dark and shocking content for the sake of shocking the reader, but it’s something else entirely to take your readers down the darkest rabbit holes imaginable and still be able to offer some form of elation or positivity from the distress suffered; and a solace that is far from quixotic to boot.

Much like in their last collection of short stories, “The Trees Grew Because I Bled There” (review here), LaRocca again reflects on the implications and responsibilities of parenting and religion, this time drawing comparisons between parents and God-like beings, working with the notion that parents are essentially also creators – the creators of their children’s future and what their offspring will ultimately be and do in life. This sentiment is elaborated on quite extensively throughout the novel – without ever coming across as preachy – placing emphasis on the notion that God, just like parents, does not have the right to create humanity, or children, only to then go on to abandon them.

Ultimately, LaRocca’s deeply affecting supernatural tale of resilience, which serves up a searing commentary on so many vital external social and internal psychological questions, is as shocking as they come, but the poignancy and intimacy with which it is told, and the author’s prowess at finding solace even in the darkest depths, demands that this novel reach as wide an audience as possible.

Publisher: CLASH Books // Publishes: June 13, 2023

Verdict:

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