GOODREADS SUMMARY: Alex and Leslie Twisden lead charmed lives-fabulous jobs, a luxurious town house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a passionate marriage. What they don’t have is a child, and as they try one infertility treatment after the next, yearning turns into obsession. As a last-ditch attempt to make their dream of parenthood come true, Alex and Leslie travel deep into Slovenia, where they submit to a painful and terrifying procedure that finally gives them what they so fervently desire . . . but with awful consequences.
Ten years later, cosseted and adored but living in a house of secrets, the twins Adam and Alice find themselves locked into their rooms every night, with sounds coming from their parents’ bedroom getting progressively louder, more violent, and more disturbing.
Driven to a desperate search for answers, Adam and Alice set out on a quest to learn the true nature of the man and woman who raised them. Their discovery will upend everything they thought they knew about their parents and will reveal a threat so horrible that it must be escaped, at any cost
If the name of the blog didn’t give it away, I’ll give up the secret–She-Wolf is a particularly avid fan of both Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega series. In both series, the lupine tendencies of “brother” and “sister” wolf, are transmitted to their human counterparts. And any reader of paranormal fiction with a proclivity for werewolves worth their salt, would also know that wolves mate for life. Why does this matter, you ask? It matters because of the simple fact that I was asked to write this post because I happen to be the She-Wolf’s mate for life. And like any good mate, I take my duties seriously. And when the She-Wolf says “Read this and give me a review in under 1200 words”, I snap my paws together and say, “woof!”
I’ll start with a caveat. I’m no big fan of horror. I tend toward science based sci-fi. Arthur C. Clarke being at the top of my list of favorite sci-fi writers. So, when I was asked to review an advance copy of Breed by Chase Novak (the pen name for Scott Spencer), I was apprehensive. I have very little background or interest overall in the genre. And, after reading the sticker on the cover offering a quote by the King of Horror himself, Stephen King, who hailed Breed as “the best horror novel I’ve read since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story”, I was even more apprehensive.
Why? Mostly because…I’m sort of a punk. As a kid, when the scary movies came on, I would always watch just to prove to my older brothers that I could hack it. Unfortunately, I suffer the emotional scars to this day. At age 7, I begged my folks to let me see Poltergeist. Before the movie ended, I had to be physically removed from the theater as a result of my bloodcurdling and hysterical crying. And the waterworks went on for the next week. Such jaundiced-intestinal behavior continued into my adulthood. Once, while on a business trip with a layover that lasted longer than the Mesozoic-era, I picked up Mr. King’s The Shining for shits and giggles. Well, after it scared the shit out of me, I wasn’t giggling. I mean, who comes up with killer topiaries…really!
With that preface, despite my apprehension, I loved this book. Novak has created a wonderfully devious take on the “urge to breed” and “rear young”, or as we refer to it when it involves upright, two-legged mammals, the biological imperative to procreate and become parents.
We begin with Alex and Leslie Twisden. Alex is a topnotch lawyer from old New York money. Leslie is many years his junior, beautiful, classy, not from money, but not a gold-digger either. The love is genuine and powerful. And like most married couples, the bond of companionship naturally leads to the desire to make a family. And like many married couples, the trouble begins when love proves not enough to produce a pregnancy.
Novak perfectly captures the anxiety, angst, anger, self-loathing, desperation, and depression that is every fruitless couple. Making all the more believable the actions they take to remedy the situation. A chance encounter with a once equally barren, now suddenly pregnant couple, leads the Twisden’s to seek fertility treatments from a Dr. Kis in Slovenia.
This gets to one of the best things about this book…it’s drop dead funny. Novak deftly mixes wry, sometimes laugh out loud humor, with some truly jarring and at times frightening imagery – the scenes with Dr. Kis being some of the funniest and most bizarre of them all. From his mad scientist look, to his drug addict assistant, Reggie. While waiting for Dr. Kis, Alex and Leslie inquire as to the nature of the fertility treatment:
“Obviously I would lose my job if I were to tell you what materials the doctor uses, but he does want you to know that he has had great success—great, great success—using the tissue of some of the most vigorous and fertile beings on earth.”
“Beings?” Alex asks.
“Yes,” says Reggie. “Living things.”
“You seem not to want to say mammal. What kind of being are we talking about?”
“It’s the results that matter,” Reggie says. “Lions, tigers, bears—do you really care?”
You could say it’s all downhill form there, and for a moment it is. But ultimately, Leslie and Alex achieve their goal. A family. Two beautiful children, twins, a boy and a girl, Adam and Alice. But the treatment that brought all of their dreams to life, also brought with it unimaginable nightmares that they don’t even understand themselves.
Novak moves quickly ahead to the twins on the cusp between youth and adolescence. Naturally, a time of great change. A time, in many ways, that is very frightening for both children and their parents. And in the case of the Twisdens, a time of frightening realization for parent and children.
This realization, leads Adam and Alice, not on a “quest to learn the true nature” of their parents, as the book jacket suggests, but to flee for their lives from the parents they suspect may not have their best interests at heart, or may not be able to help themselves from hurting them.
That in and of itself was horror enough for me. The idea, as a child, of being scared of your parents. And as a parent, being scared of yourself, and what you might do to your children. Every parent looks at their newborn child and says, “I could just eat you up!” Well, Novak’s Breed may make future parents think twice before putting that thought into the universe.
Written in the present tense, Breed reads like a great screenplay…the action rolling out in front of the reader in real-time. The relationships between the main characters are real and believable, making the core tension in the book, the danger posed to children by their own parents, even more palpable.
There are a bevy of key side characters: the well-intentioned school teacher and his gay lover who shelter Adam; the gang of feral children living in Central Park who shelter Alice and who help illuminate the mystery surrounding Dr. Kis and his magical fertility drug.
But at the heart of the story are the parents and their children.
If there were any disappointments, it was that at one point, you realize that much of the book is one long chase scene. And while the conclusion of that chase is in some ways satisfying, it did at times seem to drag, or beg for a speedier resolution. And the ending, in my book, wanted for more finality.
While I don’t think Breed will bear any offspring of its own, Novak has given birth to an original and terrible tale, one that I think will enjoy much success.
4 Big and Hairy Howls!!! Way UP!