DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

This Symbiotic Fascination
Charlee Jacob
Leisure/ $5.99/ 393 pages
ISBN: 0-8439-4966-X

Originally published in 1997 by Necro Publications, THIS SYMBIOTIC FASCINATION is the sort of book that was never supposed to be seen in mass market. It's too hardcore, too extreme, too outrageous for Kmart. But nobody told Leisure books that, so you'll probably be able to find it popped in the wire racks right there next to less dangerous fare -- and I'm glad you can.

Charlee Jacob has been lumped into the subgenre of "hardcore horror." As occurred before with the possibly non-existent (but influential nonetheless) "splatterpunk" non-movement before it, such lumping tends to be a disservice to the best of those lumped even as it inflates the worth of the worst.

Yes, Jacob writes hyperintensive horror -- the "there are no limits" variety: explicit, gruesome, and violent. It's not for the faint of heart or the delicate of dispositions. But she's not just another shock-schlockmeister of the current school of near-illiterate Samenzellen und Drang.

To start with, Jacob writes complete characters: living, breathing, suffering or demented, often sickeningly real humans (and semi- and non-humans.) Even minor characters from working class guys with "a swagger full of jock itch" to the local TV "investigative reporter" who grabs a camcorder to tape a murder-rape to a really dirty demonic cop resonate.

Main character Tawne Delaney is a big strong ugly woman, the antithesis of everything considered by society to be beautiful and desirable. A virgin at 37, no man has ever been able to appreciate her inner beauty. Then an "ugly little man" who understands "that the ghastliness of life without beauty in a society that respected nothing less" transforms her into one of the undead who can dazzle men into seeing her as ravishingly gorgeous. The men pay for their lustful appreciation with their blood and flesh.

Arcan Tyler, friend and co-worker of Tawne's, is another miserable societal reject. Warped by an insane mother, he is possessed by three "animals" -- a cat, a wolf, and a ghoul -- who push him into unspeakable acts of rape and mutilation. The "ghosts" of his (mostly) still-living victims torment him for, oddly, he is an honorable man.

The monstrous duo eventually find a form of true love in one another, but nothing ends happily ever-after.

Throughout, Jacob paints indelible word-scenes, the kind you might rather forget, but can admire for their artistry. Her descriptive powers and understanding of the essential Truth of a situation and its characters pull the reader through sections that, if dared by another writer, would be at least off-putting and, most likely, completely disgusting. Moreover, she does not exploit. Read most sadistic rape scenes written by the gore-boys. There's often a lengthy lead-up (or several) of the salivating monster considering his victim; the victim is invariably dehumanized in one manner or another by author or character (or both); the act itself is portrayed with sexual thrust and detail; the victim is then allowed to fictionally react. Usually all the players are cardboard cut-outs. There's clear-cut emotion at work in this kind of writing, but it's not fear, it's sexual excitement. Jacob, on the other hand has three- (even four-, maybe five-) dimensional characters and she never forgets that fear is the primary emotion of horror. Arousal belongs in the realm of smut. (Not that I have anything against smut. I'm all for it. I'm just making a literary distinction here.) And, surprisingly perhaps, there's considerable humor in the novel. Not the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of the gore-boys, either. Jacob's wit is much more likely to reveal something about a character or something sadly telling about the world we live in or the people we are. Ultimately, that's what separates Jacob from the hardcore-jockeys. Her work shows us how close we (or at least someone we know) may be to the edge of the abyss; how our human need can so easily push any of us into monstrosity; how even knowing the vicissitudes of our society can not save us from them. (February 2002) -- Paula Guran (Orginally appeared in CEMETERY DANCE #39

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.