the science fiction
fantasy horror &
Dread In The Beast
Necro paperback $14.95
review by Mike Philbin
Dread In The Beast was originally a mind-expanding 16-story collection of 'hardcore horror' that I picked up at the Necro Publications stand at Horrorfind 2002 in Baltimore, MD. Four years later and here's the novel that was a short novella in that collection.
Let me first confess that I love Charlee Jacob's writing: she is one of the truly disturbing genre writers in a torpid sea of sallow mediocrity. As Ed Lee wisely points out in his extensive introduction to this novel, "If there's an ultimate dichotomy in the horror genre, it's got to be Jacob... armed with a talent to write the most beautiful prose yet using that talent to examine the most unspeakable and detestable horror."
And he's right. I've had the privilege of collaborating on short stories with Charlee Jacob. She is adept at rendering astonishing worlds of pain and suffering. She's won World Horror Association gross-out competitions, Stoker Awards and more. Among the horror fraternity Jacob can do no wrong. But she's not yet written a decent novel.
My first encounter with Charlee Jacob, novelist, was the Leisure mass-market paperback This Symbiotic Fascination. I suspected then that maybe her over-bearing editors had been a bit brutal with her, asking her to go back through her usual torrent of poetic obscenity and callous amorality and 'calm it down' and maybe try to slow the pace for the reader who isn't used to the intensity of Jacob's psycho-erotic roller coasters; stretch it all out a bit, you know. The dread in my beast points to it being all her own work, with no middleman's interference pattern. And that's the ultimate dichotomy... how can such an amazing, visceral, imaginative writer of short stories and poetry compose such turgidly boring novels.
Usually, I can devour a decent novel in a few relaxing days but Dread In The Beast took weeks and, in all honesty, I couldn't even finish it. I finally got 240-odd pages into this 350-pager and just closed the book, savagely de-motivated, not willing to read on. In all that time I'd been looking for some sort of humanity to latch onto. Some thread of realism. Some lifeline. It's not about narrative drive getting in the way of the anecdotal, the way it does with Richard Laymon's books. It's not the charm-less cynicism of so many other tired villains of dream and fantasy pumping the horror turd onto the unwarranted shelves. It's not even the ever-so-helpful dialogue Jacob employs. It's just that there are no real characters to empathise with, to hate, to enjoy the ride with. There are no intimate depictions of life's suffering reason that populated the middle third of the original Dread In The Beast collection, traumatic visions like Drunken Devils, Sainted Wives And Fire and Anna's Thesia. These were gut-wrenching visceral victims/ torturers you were really drawn along by some hidden, mysterious, inner motivation. And that's all they needed.
You've actually gotta care about the characters in a novel - it's a long way to go without feeling any emotion whatsoever for the subject of your reading. Sure, Dread In The Beast has structure; it's weighed down with leaps back and forth through history as we study the lineage of the Queen of a shit-eating tribe. And there's many a reference to ancient tribal miscellany and trivia but it's not integrated into the narrative the way say a data-bore like Chuck Palahniuk really stacks his research high. It's more in passing that we realise Jacob's 'into all that weird stuff'.
Novelists cannot afford to forget the great rule of writing - show; don't tell. It's the difference between saying, 'Oh, Jack is real evil' and showing Jack doing something really evil. I felt like this book was reminding me all the time that scatological cults are real bad and real evil. I wanted to make my own decisions as a reader but I was bludgeoned on the head by how I should have been reading it, time and again. Every piece of writing should be a very personal experience where the reader gets out of it just what s/he needs - there should be no dictatorship or command-post agenda.
Dread In The Beast is a grim book, sure, but it doesn't successfully revel in its grimness, displaying mostly a disgusted sneer as a reaction to its own bowel content. The cover by Erik Wilson is an abominable insult to the eye - the palette is all over the place, the font is awful, the filters and layout is really scruffy looking and the big green digital spray brush used to 'make the title/ author glow spookily' just looks real amateurish and because of the full-page graphic style of the chapter headings the paper edges are all stained with these dark lines sullying what should have been pristine white pages. The cover soon started to warp away from the pages and the plastic coating was rolling back already. It's a generally scrappy horrible-looking book.
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