We Can Never Leave This Place
Trepidatio Publishing (June 24, 2022)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
In the last few years, Eric LaRocca has developed a cult following that originated with his viral hit Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke (among other works), but he was a new author to me. LaRocca has a sick mind, and I mean that in a highly complimentary way.
Let me plunge right into a quick description of this novella so you can see what I mean. In an unnamed war-torn dystopian hellhole, teenager Mara is living with her mother, who is pregnant and about to give birth. At the outset of the story, Mara’s father has just deserted the family, and then promptly killed in the city outside. His corpse is returned to the family by local militiamen. Like the relationship between the two women, their apartment is falling apart—the place is collapsing around them and the floor is covered by raw sewage, which continues to flow inside—but the city outside offers no escape or safe haven. Mara and her mother have a fraught (read: terrible) relationship, and the mother soon invites Rake, a sentient large spider, to come live with them. With Rake comes a host of his cronies, an array of anthropomorphized vermin (snakes, lizards, and cockroaches), who quickly take over the place. As Mara’s mother progresses from Rake’s sexual plaything to his slave and food source, Mara must attempt to grieve the loss of her father and the breakdown of her relationship with her mother while surviving in this horrifying and surreal environment.
This is a story about grief and tragedy in the wake of still unfolding terrors, so the personal loss in the midst of war metaphoric setting is very apt. I read We Can Never Leave This Place as an ongoing existential crisis on multiple levels, an exploration of someone whose life is imploding catastrophically on multiple levels and filling up with literal and figurative excrement.
This is not a feel-good story. Quite the contrary. You will feel dirty as you begin reading, and this feeling will stick with you long after you’ve finished it. The novella is, after all, filled with omnipresent filth, muck, and literal raw sewage, as well as oppression and exploitation by predators and scavengers. Perhaps more importantly, the characters are mostly all physically and morally unclean. We’re talking about sapient vermin in a dystopian ruin preying upon a young woman and her mother in the midst of an impossible situation from which there is no escape. This takes on the form of a kind of fever dream—not one of the fun kind—as Mara’s situation goes from bad to worse.
LaRocca’s prose is smooth, even while his subjects are grotesque and their situations tense and harrowing. Creepiness, dread, and tension pervade throughout. Mara is suitably sympathetic as a character and her tormentors both bizarre and awful. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be unsettled as you read.
If you’re looking for a story set in a surreal nightmare landscape that will almost physically make you feel dirty, Eric LaRocca’s We Can Never Leave This Place is for you. Recommended.