The Unreprinted: Haunter/Soma by Charlee Jacob
A look at the incredibly disturbing novel of body and religious horror by the late author Charlee Jacob.
Charlee Jacob, from what I can find, began her career writing poetry in the 80s. In the 90s, she moved into publishing short horror fiction before having her first novel, This Symbiotic Fascination, published in 1997. Her stories and novel became known for pushing the limits, containing extreme scenes of sexual degradation and violence. In 2003, her second novel Haunter was released through the mass-market publisher Leisure. Shortly after, it was republished under the title Soma in limited hardcover under Delirium and then in paperback under Necro Publications.
Haunter/Soma follows an American GI named Harry Tyler. He suffers from a unique form of priapism that keeps him in a perpetual state of arousal and compels him to fuck literally anything he can stick it in. This brings a lot of amusement to his company, who encourage him to copulate with dead bodies, dead animals, and things he’s not even able to identify. When he rapes a mutant creature he discovers in an abandoned temple, his body undergoes a strange transformation. He grows breasts and a vagina and finds himself able to shapeshift. He becomes possessed by the Hindu god, Shiva.
He soon finds himself in a remote Cambodian village where nearly everyone has suffered a crippling injury inflicted by soldiers of the Khmer Rogue. They welcome him as their savior and, soon, he finds himself gifting them Soma. This drug made from his piss leaves them all in a state of permament ecstasy and transcendence.
When Soma makes its way outside the village, causing problems for the underground trades of drugs and prostitution, a crime lord sends a group of mercenaries to wipe out the villagers. One of these mercenaries happens to be Harry’s brother, Elliot. Upon discovering what’s happened to Harry, he brings his brother and the survivors in the village back to the United States and their home state of Texas.
Soon, the US government takes an interest in this new drug Soma that’s come into the country.
The Soma edition contains three more chapters than Haunter does. They actually make the story much more clear, albeit still very surreal. These chapters go into things like Harry experiencing his transformation, the pasts of Harry and Elliot, and how Elliot got the villagers into the US under the guise of being carnival performers. I’m actually a bit baffled by the editing decision to cut these chapters, assuming they were cut and weren’t actually added later.
The juxtaposition of sex and violence in the book is nothing new, in fact it’s par for the course in splatterpunk/extreme horror. Jacob, however, goes beyond mere juxtaposition. Sex bleeds into violence and becomes indistinguishable in her descriptions. Male and female become meaningless distinctions. Degenerate war criminals become saviors of mankind. Waste is the divine. The road to Heaven is paved with Hell. Or is it the other way around?
In some ways, it’s hard to consider this a horror novel, though I can think of no other category for it. It’s an almost neverending parade of horrible images and events, but all of it is portrayed as a necessary step towards something better, towards Nirvana. To take from a Western religion, the meek may suffer, but Jacob seems assured they will inherit paradise.
I can’t speak to how well Jacob portrays Hinduism and Buddhism. For all I know, she gets the philosophies of the religions completely wrong. While there is criticism to be made of potentially Orientalist depictions of these concepts, I personally found her use of them convincing enough that it didn’t bother me. Of course, I’m an atheist who was raised in the United States as a Christian, so take that for what it’s worth.
It truly is a brutal book as well. Its descriptions of realistic violence and abuse, as well as its more fantastic hellish imagery, can be difficult to get through at times. This is especially true early in the book in chapters that follow the life of an underage Thai prostitute. This really is one of those books only for those with a high tolerance for brutal imagery.
Charlee Jacob, unfortunately, passed away in 2019. It appears that not long after her death, most of her work fell out of print. However, three of her books, including her first novel, have been put back in print from Crossroads Press. This gives some hope that Soma will be reprinted again soon.
If there’s any book that deserves to come back into print, it’s this one. It pushes the extremes of an already extreme genre, but it also displays some of the best writing I’ve seen in modern horror. Jacob’s horrific images are vivid and beautifully rendered. She takes a real, deep interest in the lives of people who’ve lived among the worst violence on Earth, which elevates it far beyond a simple work of shock art.
If you can’t wait for this to come back into print, the Soma editions are more difficult to track down than the Haunter ones, but I think it’s worth the effort.