Novel is both shocking and admirable
Anyone who remembers Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and the Roman Polanski film that came out about a year later, then you have a handle on a spooky plot wherein two New York parents-to-be are faced with the daunting possibility that the wife may be pregnant with (and by) something that is “not of this earth.” I’m still haunted by Mia Farrow’s tortured dilemma as she stands before the crib that contains “the spawn of Satan” ... stands with a knife in her hand. Which is stronger, a mother’s love or her moral obligation to protect mankind from evil?
Well, this time out, Chase Novak takes us well beyond the birth of a new life form. In fact, after a decade of fruitless encounters with fertility clinics, Alex and Leslie Twisden, the wealthy heirs of an ancestral estate (his) packed with tradition and “ojets d’art,” have become desperate enough to search out a remote clinic in Ljubljana, Slovenia, (yes, this is a real place) where they find themselves in the clutches of Dr. Kis (think of the actor Marty Feldman in medical garb). Dr. Kis puts the helpless couple through a frightening and painful series of injections and tells them to go home and copulate with abandon. They do, and in due time, they learn that Leslie is pregnant.
There are a few complications (a craving for meat and the sudden appearance of excessive body hair). Leslie gives birth to twins. Well, actually triplets, but the third child is physically deformed, hideous and disappears — allegedly into some ward where he is mercifully “put to sleep.” Hoo, hoo! Don’t you believe it. His name is Bernard and he bears a slight resemblance to Steven Hawking minus a few appendages and an eye. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
At this point, our author jumps a decade. The Twisden twins, Alice and Adam, are suddenly 10 years old, enrolled in a prestigious school and blessed with grace and physical beauty. However, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not happy. There are two reasons for their growing alarm. One is the fact that they are locked up every night with a complex system of barred windows and electronic locks. However, the second reason is something of a surprise. Alice and Adam have come to believe that the security system is not to keep them in ... but to keep their parents out ... at night.
Although Alex and Leslie dolt on their two beautiful children, there have been some changes in the parents’ lifestyle. At night, the children listen with growing anxiety strange and inexplicable sounds. The house seems to shake with the thunderous activity — as though two savage animals were prowling through those luxurious rooms that are filled with priceless paintings and antiques. There are violent encounters and screams mixed with the sounds of eating. Yet, each morning, Alice and Adam come down for breakfast and listen to their parents discuss trivial details. They also note that none of the “domestic help” stays very long.
At this point, Alice and Adam decide to escape. “They intend to kill us,” Adam tells Alice. “But they love us,” says Alice. “Yes, but they are going to kill us anyway. Something happens to them at night.” Indeed it does!
To put it mildly, they become “ravening beasts.” It all goes back to that “crazed Dr. Kis,” who injected them with a serum that would guarantee fertility. However, there are adverse effects. Both of the bewildered parents develop body hair that is so excessive that Leslie has to have frequent laser treatments to keep her face free of facial hair. Then, their eating habits change. The freezer is stocked with raw steak, pork and lamb. Alex begins to “snack” on hamsters and squirrels and often takes an uncommon interest in stray dogs. He even begins to keep caged animals in the basement. He often lingers outside those locked doors ... Alice and Adam know he is there.
Michael Medoff has the misfortune of being Alice and Adam’s favorite teacher. Gay and paranoid, Michael lives with his lover Xavier Sardina in a three-room flat. Dedicated to his profession and popular with his students, Medoff strives to live unnoticed by the homophobic headmaster of the prestigious school where he teaches. Ah, but that was before the terrified Adam showed up at his apartment with an incoherent tale about his father. Very quickly the hapless teacher finds himself caught up in a nightmare involving the possible loss of his job and the gradual discovery that the Twisdens are … lycanthropes? Is that it? Yes, it seems that those shots that Dr. Kis administered consisted of a devilish blend of “fertility enhancers” from wolves and tigers. Finally, the injections included an extract which contains the DNA of a fish called the goby ... a fish that eats its young.
Well, I don’t want to give away all of the bizarre consequences of this “over the top” horror novel that is an exciting reading experience if the reader has a dark sense of humor. Yes, this book is funny. Time and time again, this tension-ridden novel gives way to laughter. What else can you do but laugh when Alex comments on the his satisfaction of completing a meal. “That gives new meaning to the expression, ‘Good dog.’” Or the memorable image of a horrified woman discovering that there is no longer a dog on her leash, just a bloody collar. As time passes, Alex develops the ability to run at amazing speeds, like those vampires on TV.
As you might suspect, the Twisden mansion is reduced to shambles by the nightly rutting sessions. Neither Alex or Leslie work anymore (He was a lawyer and she was an editor of children’s books). Most of their time is spent hunting ... the squirrels in Central Park, mostly. Also, they have competition. All of those shabby teenagers on skateboards that Alice and Adam keep meeting ... well, many of them are actually products of Dr. Kis’ serum … and many of them searching for food for Mom and Dad. Remember Bernard? He is sort of a mascot for these hirsute teenagers.
When I discovered that the name of the author, Chase Novak, is actually a pen name for Scott Spencer, this wild romp of a book began to make sense. Scott Spenser is something of a genius. Back in 1979, he wrote one of the most successful books published in this century — Endless Love. This haunting novel was translated into 20 languages and sold 2 million copies. He has about 10 novels. Critics often comment on his “depth as a writer,” which enables him to paint vivid pictures of young passion and youthful torment. He also drops disturbing literary references into his descriptive details. For example, Breed contains a whimsical reference to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. He also has a knack for disturbing metaphors. My favorite in Breed is in the final pages in which Leslie decides to commit suicide by Delta 757. Leslie jumps, and:
“In less time than it takes for her heart to contract and expand, she is sucked into the jet, like a goose, like debris, like something of no account, and the engine has its way with her. It eats her as if it were ravenous, and in moments there is nothing recognizable left of her.”
I would call that metaphor shocking, disgusting and admirable. It also stands as a pretty good description of Scott Spenser. Breed will make a fantastic movie.