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The Trees Grew Because I Bled There cover

The Trees Grew Because I Bled There: Collected Stories by Eric LaRocca

(Titan Books, 2023)

Reviewed by Steven French

Eric LaRocca is the author of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke which ‘went viral’ and garnered considerable praise. This follow-up volume brings together eight disturbing short stories, several of them containing elements of body-horror.

All are about relationships, in one form or another and are also straightforward narrations, except for one—‘The Strange Thing We Become’, presented as a series of forum posts that relay the decline of the author’s partner, Evie, following her cancer diagnosis. As Evie retreats to the attic, at first to meditate, then to self-mummify, an atmosphere of paranoia and desperation builds up, which breaks in an ending that is not so much horrific, as just very weird.

The ending of ‘Bodies Are For Burning’ is more predictable. Here the narrator can’t stop herself thinking of burning or setting fire to people. When her sister drops off her infant daughter, Grace, one day, the dark thoughts crowd in and the narrator turns to the large wood pile out back. However, it’s not Grace who she throws on there.

Perhaps the most disturbing piece is the title story, ‘The Trees Grew Because I Bled There’, about betrayal and revenge and bloody presents. The narrator herself is the gift that keeps on giving, offering more and more of herself to her lover. But then revelations on both sides twists things around and the giver becomes a bloody taker.

The other stories are all about parent-child relationships, in one form or another. ‘You’re Not Supposed to Be Here’ presents a variant of every parent’s nightmare: a snatched child and a dreadful task assigned to ensure their return. To make it even worse, once successfully, if bloodily, completed, the task then has to be passed on to another family, like a gruesome chain letter.

‘I’ll Be Gone By Then’ is also about family but this time the narrator is the monster who abandons her wheelchair-bound mother in some distant park. Her subsequent discovery of a simple declaration of love changes everything, implausibly perhaps, but by then, of course, it’s too late.

Also less-than-successful is ‘Where Flames Burned Emerald As Glass’, featuring a widower sitting by a hotel pool, writing letters to his lover while his daughter splashes in the water. A bizarre monkey-attack leads to an intervention from a stranger who offers the father a choice: either hand over the girl or refuse and see his daughter die after being bitten by a snake. No spoilers here, except to say this is perhaps the least effective piece of the collection.

‘Please Leave Or I’m Going To Hurt You’ is also about the feelings between a child and their father. In this case, however, it is one that is twisted by incestuous longings. A peaceful walk to a beautiful graveyard is disturbed when the son reveals his desires and is rebuffed—or is he? Unfortunately, the ambiguity and descriptive richness is not enough to lift this piece from being merely a bit creepy.

Finally, in ‘You Follow Wherever They Go’, a father tries to persuade his child to join a bunch of other kids who are outside in the rain, dressed in costumes, carrying paper lanterns and playing an assortment of musical instruments. The child clearly doesn’t want to leave and offers a litany of excuses, each of which is quashed by their dad, who is clearly unwell, until finally they agree to go out and join the band. Looking back, they see the ambulance leave before following their companions into the dark. Poignant but creepy, this for me was the stand-out story of this mixed-bag of a collection.

Review from BSFA Review 21 - Download your copy here.


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