“A silence settles over the house; the ticking of the grandfather clock is as loud as nails being pounded into the lid of a coffin.”
Breed has been compared to Rosemary’s Baby, but I didn’t get that connection at all. If anything, it’s the opposite: innocent children are born to monstrous parents. It’s no secret that Chase Novak is the pen name for National Book Award finalist Scott Spencer, and I suspect he used a pen name because Breed is so different from his other books. It’s horror, through and through, and I loved every page.
Leslie and Alex Twisden are an affluent couple living in an immense townhouse in Manhattan, and have everything money can buy, except for one thing: a child. After countless fertility procedures and thousands of dollars, the Twisden’s are desperate and will do anything to conceive. One day they run into a couple they know from a support group. The wife, Jill, is hugely – and surprisingly – pregnant. Alex manages to talk the couple into giving up their secret, and before long, Leslie and Alex are on a plane to a small town in Slovenia to meet with a Dr. Kis, the miracle worker behind Jill’s pregnancy. Although Leslie is worried about the filthy doctor’s office and the wild and unkempt Dr. Kis, Alex convinces her to submit to some very painful injections. Back in their hotel room, the couple discovers they are ravenous for each other, and spend a long and unbridled night in bed together, during which Leslie conceives.
But the couple’s joy begins to dwindle when they start to notice changes to their bodies: hair that grows in strange places and an insatiable appetite for red meat. Leslie’s pregnancy only lasts five months, at which time twins Adam and Alice are born. The story abruptly fast forwards to ten years later, as Adam and Alice have begun to realize just how dangerous their family is. This is where the story really picks up. The twins, who have been locked in their rooms every night for the past ten years and have no friends, decide to run away. What follows is an extended chase scene through the streets of New York and Central Park as the children run for their lives.
Spencer (sorry, I have a hard time thinking of the author by his pen name!) has a perfect writing style for horror, and the horror in Breed is the kind that grows so gradually that it literally bludgeons you over the head when you aren’t looking. His writing is gorgeous and lyrical and (some might say “overly”) descriptive, and not the sort of writing one usually encounters in a horror novel. This lulls the reader into believing that things maybe aren’t so bad. But then the bad stuff inevitably arrives, and the reader is knocked out. Each horrific detail is absurdly and gleefully rendered. I’ve read my share of graphic and bloody horror, and I can tell you I wasn’t quite prepared for some of the scenes in this book. But the violence isn’t thrown in randomly. It’s calculated to illustrate just how horrible those fertility injections were, and it didn’t feel out-of-place at all.
Breed has a host of likeable characters to offset the bad ones, and I found myself rooting not only for the innocent but resourceful Alice and Adam, but their school teacher Michael and his partner Xavier, who bravely try to shelter the children while dealing with accusations of molestation. Leslie’s sister Cynthia is another innocent who gets caught up in the drama of the events that unfold when the children escape through the locked windows of their bedrooms. In Central Park Adam and Alice meet a group of feral teens whose circumstances are eerily similar to the twins’, and we meet a nurse who played a critical and surprising role during their birth.
As the story spirals downward, the state of the townhouse begins to decay as well. I loved the parallel between the parents’ descent into madness and the way their house gradually loses its shine. Every aspect of the story falls into disrepair as Leslie and Alex lose their humanity. I did, however, find myself sympathizing with them, even after witnessing the horrible things they do. Leslie and Alex truly want to be good parents and love their children, but there are circumstances beyond their control that prevent them from doing so.
Breed accomplishes what the best horror stories set out to do: it makes us fearful about the most normal and mundane aspects of being human. It poses the questions “How badly do you really want to have children?” and “What happens when you can’t trust the adults who are raising you?” Its underlying message could be this: having children will ruin your life. If you are pregnant, and especially if you are trying to get pregnant, Breed might not be your best choice of reading material. But if you are looking for a beautifully written and terrifying piece of work, take my advice and grab a copy as soon as possible.
Many thanks to Library Thing and Mulholland Books for supplying a review copy.