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 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 change the lives of those who once found peace in the quiet town of Henley’s Edge.
In my opinion, Eric LaRocca is a master of the short story form. For a long time, I was never really a fan of short story collections, however after reading LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, and The Trees Grew Because I Bled There: Collected Stories, I changed my mind. The harsh realities of life, and in particular queer life, pervades across their stories, heartbreak and despair punctuating every page. In the short bursts of LaRocca’s tales, you cannot look away from their grotesque creations, and you cannot wait for the next one. I was curious how LaRocca’s unique hard-hitting style would translate to a full-length novel.
This is definitely a book to check your trigger warnings. Off the top of my head there is bigotry, homophobia, and scenes of extreme physical and sexual violence. When trying to reconcile with these aspects of the story, quite telling is the letter I received attached alongside my copy of the book. LaRocca makes no qualms about the fact that people may be put off by the constant bleakness throughout the book, about its ‘exquisitely pointless suffering’. As LaRocca puts it: ‘This is a book about cruelty, about unbridled hatred and how that loathing will threaten to devour everything in our lives if we’re not careful’. Bad things do not need a reason to happen just as a book does not need to be uplifting to justify its existence.
I think the most terrifying aspect of the book for me was how evil manifests itself in mundane life throughout. In the story, a simple and ordinary car driving by can hold truly monstrous secrets. Any rationale behind the people victimised throughout is evil, and so inherently lacking in logic, showing that sometimes evil simply just exists and there is nothing we can do to predict or stop it from happening. The constant and consistent despair throughout the book is draining, but this also matches the tone of the story. Hopelessness latches onto you as a reader; just as different characters lose faith in God, those chosen to protect us, or humanity itself, we lose faith in a positive outcome to the story.
In terms of plot and character I did have a couple of issues with the story. The book takes on a dual narrative structure, which I do not have a problem with, however I did find it quite odd the lack of intersection between the two separate stories until they finally meet at the finale of the book. At this point it felt a little forced trying to tie the two together. Despite this, LaRocca’s character work is typically phenomenal and there are markers of that through the protagonists of the story Malik and Ghost, and particularly with Malik and his relationship with his boyfriend Brett that is central to the story.
I also would have liked more information about the town all these terrible events are happening in. Perhaps this was by design, but it did not feel like a town that people were disappearing from. Particularly with Malik being an officer I felt there was more room to explore the panic and anxiety that a town would surely show if people were disappearing. There did not seem to be any consequence to these disappearances and that felt a little odd to me, even if tonally the town’s apathy to its slow demise does make sense.
Everything the Darkness Eats is a book that will divide opinion. It will put off a lot of people with its overwhelming bleakness and despair, and that includes me to an extent. I do think right now that LaRocca’s raw and hard-hitting style is better suited to short fiction that comes in swift, more manageable bursts, but I am definitely excited to see how he continues to evolve as a writer in future works! Everything the Darkness Eats is not a book to savour, but instead to endure and survive, and that is ok. After all, sometimes survival is the only light that can be found in the darkness.