Chase Novak Lampoons Manhattan Parenting in First Horror Novel, "Breed"
Even if you aren't a fan of horror, you probably know the trope of the "demon child" - "Rosemary's Baby," "The Omen," "The Innocents" -- and if you don't, just wait until you have kids. But in author Chase Novak's satirical horror novel, "Breed," it's the parents who are the real monsters.
In "Breed," Novak hits upon the perfect blend of terrifying real-life topics: genetic engineering and rich but barren Manhattanites. The novel begins as a snarky tour of fertility treatment chic among the city's moneyed classes. And it gets a lot weirder from there.
On the recommendation of another couple, pretentious attorney Alex Twisden and his editor wife, Leslie, have one last go at baby making in a bizarre clinic of a creepy Slovenian doctor. The treatment works. They become incredibly fertile. But unfortunately they become feral, too.
"On a realistic level, everyone says having kids changes everything," author Chase Novak tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "So you take that idea and you marry it to ... undergoing some really outre medical procedure, and you see how far those changes can go."
Novak is the pen name of Scott Spencer, author of the 1970s classic "Endless Love." Spencer has written for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, and Harper's. "Breed" is his debut novel as Chase Novak and serves as his first departure into horror. According to NPR, he has repurposed his literary flair for observation into grisly narrative schadenfreude. Every disgusting detail ends with a sarcastic barb, a nasty little stinger aimed at the well-toned bodies of our protagonists.
One of the immediate side effects of the mad doctor's treatment is that Alex and Leslie get incredibly hairy and lose their inhibitions about things like hygiene and chewing on the furniture. They devote most of their time to rutting, eating increasingly grotesque slabs of meat and (in Leslie's case) seeking out people willing to do all-over body waxing once a day.
"They become beasts, they become dangerous, they become capable of hideous violence and even cannibalism" as the book progresses, Spencer says.
The bulk of Breed is told from the perspective of the Twisden twins, Alice and Adam, who at the age of 10 have realized there is something deeply wrong with their parents. Through the children's eyes, we see that the Twisden family mansion has fallen into ruin. No longer able to work, they've sold off their antique furniture to pay for the twins' expensive schooling. They are the monstrous embodiment of downward mobility, struggling to keep up appearances with their rich neighbors.
Fearing that they're about to become their parents' next meal, Alice and Adam flee their home one night."[The parents] don't want them to get out, and they don't want to get in," Spencer adds.
Spencer says Breed is based on the struggles of friends he's seen go through round after round of fertility treatments. "The pathos and the difficulty of that, and the toll that it took on their personal lives ... stuck with me forever," he says.
Horror doesn't have to be silly, Spencer says; in fact, serious issues like infertility make great fodder for horror. "It pushes it to the edge, and you explore the darkest possibilities of the story ... in any good story, something important should be at stake."
And there's another component: Spencer's childhood fear that he just wasn't safe in his own house. "I hate to say it because my parents are completely blameless, they're just as sweet as could be and they did love me," he says. "But there's a time in a child's life ... when you realize that a) they're separate people, and b) that they have a life that doesn't include you, and c) they're very strict about your bedtime, and why are they so interested in getting you out of there? And my imagination just started to spin and spin and spin."
Spencer says he also wanted to write a comic take on the narcissism of parenting. "The idea that they wanted some extension of themselves is the roots of their undoing," Spencer says. "I wanted to keep this whole highly privileged world of Manhattan parenting very realistic."
There are some parallels between Breed and the literary tales of romantic obsession Spencer has written under his own name. But Spencer says he needed to create a second identity. "Who wouldn't want to be someone else?" he asks, but, "also remain yourself and able to travel back and forth between these two people?"
More importantly, Chase Novak was willing to go places Scott Spencer couldn't. "Spencer's limited by the fact that ... he's buried beneath this tottering stack of pages he's already written. And Novak had nothing on his mind but this sort of mania to follow the nightmare logic of these thoughts and memories. In other words, Spencer couldn't have written Breed. It was up to Chase Novak."