You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood, a work of literary horror, attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding Martyr Black and his partner, Ambrose Thorne. The lovers’ disappearance follows a string of vicious murders, and the only possessions left behind speak of Martyr’s contained violence toward his beloved.
The narrative draws much of its appeal from non-traditional means of storytelling. Split up into editor’s notes, a novella penned by one of the characters, as well as a series of chilling ruminations and poems, the story converges into a string of clues for the reader to get tangled up in.
What’s more, the contrast between the objective and the subjective glimpsed within this structure acts as a sweeping distraction, toying with the reader’s perception as only true horror is known to do.
The interaction the story demands of us is a heady lure. With the reader subdued early on, the crafted narrative squirms and writhes, trying to illuminate the humanity within the perpetrators’ depths. Coincidentally, by turning the unfathomable into something potentially ruled by both heart and logic, the story brings to mind Micah Nemerever’s These Violent Delights.
Preoccupied with Martyr’s pained stance toward love and yearning, You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood hints at the gruesome end awaiting his lover. The subversion of longing that’s introduced through his character — marked by his desire for separation by death and his experience of possession as a safeguard against feeling — wedges an element of suspense into the story.
It all but hums as it penetrates the valves of the narrative. Added to it are the goings-on of the titular novella, which continuously electrifies its cells. There are numerous references to the horrors we glimpse online, ones that stimulate with a merciless touch. But LaRocca chooses to delve beneath the stimulus, scrutinizing the urges of the body instead.
Throughout the story, we’re acutely aware of our strive to “see ourselves outside of ourselves”, treating the body as the crude, physical barrier to the cruelty that is innately human. Even Martyr’s name, deliciously ironic, exemplifies the way LaRocca clads his work in the details of a fragmented plot.
What arises from this is a meditation on fear, as well as the things that truly disturb us. Is it the aggravation of the psyche, or the act of finally acknowledging its appetite? After all, when faced with the unknown, the mind leans toward the gruesome. When given the chance to create, thoughts hasten to pitch a world of depravity.
In between these introspections is the story within a story, or the Matryoshka doll of mounting atrocity. Martyr’s novella has the air of a campfire ghost story, told to occupy and entrance. All the while, however, you’re conscious of the way the speaker mouths the words, the weight that pulls and contracts his facial mimicry, licks the skin around his unflinching eye.
And, with only one foot rooted in reality, you strain to decipher what these machinations reveal about the storyteller himself. Should you drag your tent farther away from his, or rest with a pocketknife under your sleeping bag? The contrast between Martyr’s chilling thoughts about Ambrose and the emotion that saturates his novella is also mesmerizing.
It draws you in, deeper than you’d like. His words, as sharply as they carve the tongue, manage to drip with tenderness. The fear of being left behind that exists between Tamsen and her brother, Presley, could be transplanted into Martyr’s relationship with his lover — after first being scrambled to fit into the warped space.
The thrill of drinking in his words is, therefore, twofold. While not always scary, they are undeniably disturbing. In fact, the text addresses the difference between the two with remarkable self-awareness. And, from the transcripts of Martyr’s discussions with Ambrose, we seize a Rubik’s Cube of convoluted sentiment.
But since emotion journeys from one mind to the other primarily through words — the expression of which Martyr finds impossible — reverence is paid to the body. Its vulnerability and transience are the points of ardent focus. And it’s burdened with more than its biological drive for survival.
Fear, language, degradation, and manipulation all spin the gears of self-destruction. Unarticulated, it acts as a source of enraged awe, particularly for Martyr. And so, overwhelmed by the prospect of either his own passivity or the lack of control inherent to human beings, he converts this vulgarity into the image of a parasite.
Eventually, we see that the elements of You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood are webbed, that they overlap to thicken the stream of grisly speculation. Everything is turned on its head.
Secrets once gleaned are revealed to be puzzle pieces snatched from the wrong box. We’re left as helpless and disoriented as we were at the beginning, as ravenous for an answer as the central question is eternally elusive.
And, by focusing a portion of the work on the contemplation of originality in both art and self-expression, LaRocca allows the key concept of disintegration — that of the body, morals, impulses, thoughts, and authenticity — to stay afloat as everything else asphyxiates in oil.
Publication date: March 11, 2022