Pieties, by Marc Ruvolo

12 May 2024

The Book

Pages: 88
Age Group: Adult
Published on 20 Apr 2024
Publisher: Off Limits Press
Available on:


1981. Diagnosed with a debilitating new mystery illness doctors are calling GRID, Andrew bids farewell to his hedonistic life in NYC, reluctantly returning to his estranged parents in the uber-religious suburban enclave of Wheaton, Illinois.

Sick, destitute, and a thousand miles from his West Village circle, Andrew finds himself trapped in a childhood home more strange and sinister than he remembers.

His mother, always the center of their family, appears ill as well, sleepwalking the darkened halls, her body covered in unexplained sores and bruises. His disapproving father disappears for hours into the secluded, picture-perfect Japanese garden behind the house. At night there is a scratching in the walls that may or may not be rats…

When he spies his father with someone in the garden, late at night and half hidden in the stands of bamboo, Andrew begins to investigate. Before long, a series of ominous events convinces him there is something far more dangerous than adultery at play. Worse, his mother may end up being the next victim...

Is this descent into madness merely a symptom of his illness, or does some terrible secret truly lurk between the still, black surface of the koi pond and the walled-off groves of whispering bamboo?  

My Review

Pieties is a horror novella, written by Marc Ruvolo and published by Off Limits Press. In a short length, Ruvolo greatly weaves together supernatural horror elements with a more human story that crudely portraits the reality of the first HIV patients, often having to return to a place from where they tried to run away while dealing with the uncertainty of their health condition.

1981. After being diagnosed with a new and debilitating illness called GRID, Andrew is forced to come back and live with his parents in the uber-religious town of Wheaton; a place where his condition was never accepted. In his childhood house, things are weird: his mother, who was his main support, seems to be ill, with sores and bruises appearing, while his father is secluded on his Japanese garden, acting even more strange than usual.

The atmosphere slowly becomes more and more oppressive, despite at some points we can see a small sun ray in the figure of Elliot; and Ruvolo describes with great precision the symptoms that many HIV patients suffer, affected by opportunistic infections. Andrew feels himself as a second-class citizen in Wheaton, with his symptoms being downplayed and constantly pressured to abandon his sexuality, either by pressure or by aggressions.

The pacing is on point, accelerating towards the great finale that decides to explore a bit more of Japanese mythology; it can feel as some threads are left untied, but that's how life behaves.

If you want a touching and great dark horror novella, Pieties is an excellent election; it can be hard to read because of its crudeness, but it won't disappoint, paying that homage to those that suffered the HIV in the early times.

The Author/s

Marc Ruvolo

Marc Ruvolo

Marc Ruvolo is a queer writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon who once considered himself a punk. He founded the seminal Bucket O’ Blood book store in Chicago, and his poetry and fiction have appeared in Cynthia Pelayo’s Gothic Blue Book Series, The Night’s End Horror Podcast, and The Best of Abyss & Apex Vol. 4. His debut horror poetry chapbook “Creep & Crow” was released in 2022 by Alien Buddha Press, and a horror novella, SLOE, was released by Unnerving Books in 2023. His second horror novella, PIETIES, is out now from Off Limits Press.