Book Review: Breed by Chase Novak
Talk about having nightmarish parents.
In Breed by Chase Novak, the pursuit of fertility literally turns people into monsters. Chase Novak is the pen name of author Scott Spencer (Endless Love, A Ship Made of Paper), who here turns his talents toward a truly yucky horror tale. Alex and Leslie Twisden are young, attractive, and very well-to-do. Alex is the scion of old, old money, with a home full of priceless belongings and a beautiful, engaging younger wife. Alex and Leslie have it all, except for the one element outside of their control: They can’t seem to make a baby. After three years of progressively invasive and expensive infertility treatments, all to no avail, Alex and Leslie are just about ready to call it quits when they stumble upon a hush-hush miracle treatment offered by a doctor in Slovenia. Before you can say “uh-oh”, they’re off to Ljubljana for a scary, painful procedure from a shady doctor, who proclaims:
We are turning a quiet glade in the forest into a teeming spot in the jungle. Life, life, everywhere life, wanting, taking, growing. We are going to turn you on. Up high. Like teenager and creature of the wild. Nothing will hold you back. Life! Life!
Back at their hotel for the one night they plan to stay in Slovenia, Leslie and Alex are indeed turned on, and wake the next morning to find their hotel room completely and utterly demolished and their bodies covered in scratches and bite marks. Sure enough, the treatment has worked, and Leslie embarks upon a pregnancy that is more than she bargained for, as both she and Alex experience disturbing and drastic changes to their bodies.
All that, and it’s only the first 40 pages of the book. Before long, Leslie has delivered, and we move into part II of the book, set 10 years later, as twins Adam and Alice struggle to find safety in a world in which their home is the most dangerous place of all. Each night, Adam and Alice are locked into their own rooms and then let out again in the morning. Their parents are inconsistently protective, allowing them no playdates or afterschool activities, walking them to and from school each day more as guards than nurturing parents. We learn pretty quickly what the twins know of their world: strange, wild noises come from their parents’ bedroom at night, the cellar is always locked, and it’s best not to get too attached to the random pets that come into their lives and then quickly disappear. Alex and Leslie no longer go to work, instead selling off Alex’s inherited wealth bit by bit and allowing their house itself to crumble into garbage-strewn, corrupted ruin.
Adam and Alice’s flight toward freedom triggers a calamitous collapse of their already shaky lives, and as they innocently involve others in their plight, the potential for violence explodes all around them. The adults in their lives are either feral savages or ineffectual benign beings who can’t quite manage to save themselves or the children from the awfulness that pursues them. Numerous sequences involve chase scenes all over Manhattan, as its streets teem with life both wildly dangerous and recklessly free. The action builds to a more or less inevitable end, as horrifying events grow one upon the other.
Ultimately, my feelings on this book are mixed. I am not a horror aficionado, and therefore can’t assess whether Breed is really a top-notch entry in the genre. From a fiction reader’s point of view, however, I can say that Breed has a lot going for it, although the ending felt a bit flat and predictable to me. As the action in the middle of the book escalates, I couldn’t look away, despite the unfailingly horrific and gross (really, there’s no other word for it) nature of the scenes. By the end, though, there weren’t very many surprises left, and I didn’t walk away from the book feeling that the early promise of the story had truly paid off.
Is this a cautionary tale about the vanity that can become enmeshed in the no-holds-barred quest for reproduction? Early in Breed, Leslie tells Alex that she’s ready to quit:
Alex, I want us to adopt. I’m sick of living this way. I’m tired of doctors, and diets, and I am most of all worried… I am worried about what this is doing to us. Our marriage. Our souls.
But Alex is insistent upon one last try:
All your kindness and intelligence and beauty — it would be a waste not to pass it along, not to keep it in the world. The gene pool cries out for it!
Of course, the irony is that by pursuing that one miracle cure, the gene pool itself is compromised, so that it’s left extremely questionable what in fact has been passed along to the next generation. It’s doubtful that the inheritance will have any resemblance to kindness, intelligence, or beauty. Clearly, Leslie was right to worry.