Thursday, June 20, 2024

It’s Not a Game: Eric LaRocca’s This Skin Was Once Mine and Other Disturbances

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Eric LaRocca returns to the short story collection game with This Skin Was Once Mine and Other Disturbances. These stories arrive April 2, 2024 from Titan Books. Following LaRocca’s usual brand of horror, they promise trauma. They promise pain. They promise to, well, disturb. Like the viral Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, readers will find few stories in these pages—only four. But they pack a punch.

It feels almost unnecessary to say these stories will hurt. This is what LaRocca does. The titular story and the second tale “Seedling” both deal with grief in particular. Multiple shades of grief, actually. These two are fun to compare because of that. They both are even about losing a parent. Sure, one loses their dad and the other loses their mom, but that’s not what makes them different. What makes them feel so separate, and they do, is what they’re saying.

“This Skin Was Once Mine” deals with loss, yes. But the real grief of this story is losing someone you didn’t really know. And in losing them, learning everything you didn’t in life. It’s a story of identity. Who we are in relation to our bonds with those around us—those who made us. “Seedlings” though, grief is a bond. It’s a form of connection, a shared experience. Instead of being about a relation, it is about relating. Still, both of them are dark, and both endings are that type of unsettling dissatisfaction that I expect from LaRocca.

This Skin Was Once Mine and Other Disturbances Cover
This Skin Was Once Mine and Other Disturbances Cover

And speaking of what I come to expect from LaRocca, there is the other half of this collection. “All The Parts of You That Won’t Easily Burn” is another long one, and it is absolutely what I think of when I think of LaRocca. There is body horror, there is manipulation, there is carnality. If anything, this feels the most like “Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke”—the story, this time. The lengths people will go to chase a certain feeling. To maintain a connection. Which flows perfectly into the final story.

“Prickle” also feels like older LaRocca. I could see it easily slotting into The Trees Grew Because I Bled There. From that collection, it reminds me a lot of “You’re Not Supposed to Be Here.” But from another angle, a reversal that isn’t. If you know that story, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. But mostly it felt like an echo of “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over.” For that one we return to Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes. And the reason why these stories resonate is simple. They involve playing games.

Well, I say playing because that’s the thing, isn’t it? LaRocca does not play. That’s why they went viral, isn’t it? And these stories are not messing around. I’m really looking forward to this hitting shelves. For me, short stories really blossom in the discussion. So, though this is subject to change, the second half of the collection is the strongest for me. It’s hard to rate a collection of four, so I’m going with that. As for where this collection, these stories, rank with their other works? Well, I’d have to cut them out and rearrange them. And hey, I think that’s how they’d like it.

This Skin Was Once Mine and Other Disturbances is available April 2, 2024.

Photo courtesy of Titan Books.

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