Breed

What lengths would you go to in order to have children?

Breed by Chase Novak(Mulholland Books)

Alex and Leslie Twisden have wealth, successful careers, and a blissful, passionate marriage. Alex is old money, and owns a magnificent family home filled with valuable antiques on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

The only thing missing from their wonderful life is a child. With his grand his family legacy, Alex is determined to produce an heir, but the couple cannot conceive and spend a fortune on unsuccessful fertility treatments.

Then they learn about a dubious and ludicrously expensive treatment from a doctor in Slovenia. A pregnancy is all but guaranteed, so the desperate couple blindly submit themselves to the doctor’s painful treatment, which involves injecting them with a cocktail of animal DNA.

Leslie falls pregnant shortly after, but the couple’s happiness is marred by the horrific side effects of the treatment.

Ten years later, the Twisden twins, Adam and Alice, live in fear of their parents. Every night they are locked into their bedrooms, and Adam hears disturbing sounds and unsettling conversations from his parents’ room. Terrified, he and Alice run away, only to have their ferociously loving parents hunt them down.

It’s a good story, although I found it conceptually scary rather than genuinely unsettling. A few aspects fell a bit flat, but there were many things I admired about Breed.

Alex and Leslie make a great couple who love each other and are happy together despite how grotesque their lives become. I loved the ideas behind their downfall. They are essentially turned into violent animal/human hybrids, making it increasingly difficult for them to function in public.

Everything in their lives starts to break down – their appearance is unkempt, they stop going to work, the house falls into disrepair, and they sell off the family antiques to make money. They lose their grasp on language and memory, and Leslie is particularly bad, forgetting basic information and common words. Their feeding habits show a preference for raw meat, and the twins know not to get attached to any pets that enter the house.

At night, the sounds that come from Alex and Leslie’s bedroom make it clear that their passion for each other is now suffused with brutality.

And yet, you have to admit that the Twisdens are loving parents. This is not a simplistic descent into evil and violence. All four of them are forced to fight an internal battle between instinct, emotion, and reason.

Alex and Leslie adore their children but they also long to eat them alive. Knowing their parents will eventually kill them, Adam and Alice must fight an instinctual urge to trust and obey them. They love their parents, and want to be with them, but arm themselves with small weapons in case of an attack.

And although the children are the victims here, they still share their parents’ bizarre genetic makeup. At age ten, they already show signs of a beastly nature. What will they be when they grow up?

These contrasts and contradictions lend a sense of pathos that I haven’t often found in horror books or movies, where the emphasis on gore and terror typically leaves little opportunity to feel truly upset about the people involved and the conflicts they’re struggling with.

Alex and Leslie were my favourite characters because they wanted to be good and they made a wonderful (if weird) couple, even though their savagery is so vile it’s impossible to ignore.

Unfortunately, Adam and Alice were rather flat characters in contrast to their parents. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them but I never cared for them all that much. I also didn’t like the wild children the twins encounter when they run away.

Apparently there are plenty of wealthy, barren New York couples who turned to the Slovenian doctor, and their kids now run around in some kind of feral gang (if they don’t get eaten, that is).

All these additional characters diluted the plot. Theoretically, it’s more horrific that so many couples are turning themselves into violent animals just so they can breed, but in practice it suddenly seems too common to be all that devastating. 

I think the book could have been much tenser if the story was focused on the Twisdens and the few other supporting characters, with perhaps one other family to give us an idea of how much worse things could get.

Some of the plot strands were also left hanging, which is always annoying and unsatisfying.

And, as I said the novel didn’t really scare me. On the bright side, I’d much rather read something like Breed, which is a decent book in itself, than the gore-drenched pulp that is stereotypical horror.

Breed
has plenty of bloody violence, but Novak uses it sparingly, so that it shocks without feeling gratuitous or cheap. I give it novel a solid 6/10.

Read more of Lauren's reviews on her blog.

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