Jesus fucking Christ I was not prepared for this book. In the best, most disturbingly unsettling way possible. THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE SINCE WE LAST SPOKE is a horror novella from small press Weirdpunk Books about two women who meet in an online forum in the early days of the internet. What begins as an innocent transaction and conversation about selling an antique apple peeler soon descends into the depths of depravity as the women, Agnes Petrella and Zoe Cross, form a relationship that had me literally screaming into my cushion in horror.
It’s told in the form of email exchanges and instant messenger chat logs, which is an interesting touch that allows the reader to see directly into the minds of Agnes and Zoe (or at least their minds as they wanted them to be portrayed) as their exchanges become increasingly more utterly fucked over the weeks and months they’re speaking to each other.
The book is very very good at doing what it intends to do i.e. weirding you the fuck out and making you feel icky inside, but I think it missed a trick by having a third party intrude on the narrative. Before the main meat of Agnes and Zoe’s email exchanges begin the story actually starts with an introduction by a police officer, who confirms the main character’s identities and states that Zoe Cross is currently the subject of a criminal investigation. Personally I think the book would have been much stronger if all we were given was the online exchanges and left to wonder whether the people involved were who they said the were and if any of what was said actually transpired. On top of that, Zoe says some pretty fucked up things, but I was confused about how any of it could be construed as criminal. But then I’m not a lawyer so whatevs.
That being said my reaction to how things played out was visceral and I really enjoyed it as written. I mean, enjoyed? I dunno, seems like a very inappropriate word but I did, I enjoyed watching this absolutely fucked up relationship develop from such a sweet, wholesome beginning to a place I couldn’t dig out of my own nightmares. A few days after I read it I actually went back and read the first few pages again; Zoe telling a lovely story about the history of a family heirloom and all the personal memories she associates with it. Then I just skipped to the end again, read the end point and was just like “how did this happen?!!? oh god how did we get here?!!?” I keep talking about this end point and getting frustrated I can’t really talk about it in a review, cos the whole point of this story is watching helplessly as it progressively degenerates into the darkest, most depraved places. It’s the strongest part of the writing, seeing Agnes slowly start to open up to Zoe about her life, her depression, her financial troubles and strained relationship with her parents as a lesbian after she came out to them, and seeing how Zoe exploits her loneliness and need for affection in increasingly alarming and upsetting ways. We don’t learn all that much about Zoe actually, and I think it’s testament to LaRocca’s writing her as an adept manipulator that she manages to make Agnes so comfortable and at ease without ever really reciprocating and offering any personal details or opening up in the way she convinces Agnes to open up to her.
I said earlier that we learn what happened was real, but think I take back saying that we learn the characters are who they say they are. In terms of their names, that’s true, and I do think Agnes was exactly who she said she was, because Zoe is very good at exploiting her mental state and manipulating her into spilling her guts over the internet. But precisely because Zoe never reciprocates, we have to do a lot of reading between the lines to know who Zoe really is. There’s a lot of subtext and manipulation in how Zoe communicates, some of which I picked up first time through, though I’m sure this is one of those books that would be excellent to read over and over again, picking up new hints and cues each time, garnering fresh insights into who Zoe is and just how she steered Agnes into the place she ultimately ends up.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is an excellent piece of horror writing. And not in that dry, literary sense, I mean in a very viscerally emotive way with things woven into the story quite masterfully in a way that makes the reader feel very uncomfortable. This is a really great book. Absolutely and utterly fucked up. But really great.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is published by small press Weirdpunk Books. Def check out their other books at their website Weirdpunk Books and their Twitter @WeirdpunkBooks. Did you enjoy this review? Find it useful? Follow the blog and never miss a post!