Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Scary Parents Both Fertile And Feral In 'Breed'

In his satirical horror novel Breed, Chase Novak has hit upon the perfect blend of terrifying real-life topics: genetic engineering and the mating habits of New York's wealthy 1 percent. The story of two rich but barren Manhattanites, the novel begins as a snarky tour of fertility treatment chic among the city's moneyed classes. But it quickly gets a lot weirder.

On the recommendation of another couple, blue-blood attorney Alex Twisden and his editor wife, Leslie, have one last go at baby making in the bizarre clinic of a creepy Slovenian doctor. The treatment works. They become incredibly fertile — but unfortunately they become feral, too.

Novak is the pen name of Scott Spencer, author of the 1970s classic Endless Love, and here 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 high-toned 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.

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 Alex's family manse has fallen into ruin. There is a clever fable about class here, as the Twisdens' tumble down the evolutionary tree mirrors their fall down the economic ladder. 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 — Adam running to his saintly, gay teacher's house, and Alice into the clutches of a group of feral children like herself who live in Central Park. Novak imagines that the homeless kids who haunt the park are all the spawn of rich New Yorkers who were patients of the mad Slovenian fertility doctor. Again, it's an interesting metaphor for downward mobility and gives us a glimpse of a genetic-engineering nightmare future. In other words, it's scientifically implausible but symbolically rich.

The main problem with Breed is Novak's clumsy effort to offer us a kind of civilized antidote to the Twisdens in Adam's gay teacher, whose main attributes are kindness, selflessness and about-to-be-lunchmeat-ness. Novak also struggles to depict Adam and Alice vividly; they come across as automatons or placeholders, rather than real children who are discovering that they aren't like any other humans they know.

Still, the book is a delightfully nauseating read. And it's the perfect dark fairy tale for these times, when more than a few readers might secretly find themselves wishing that the world's elites would be brought so low as to start pooping in their own posh living rooms.

Annalee Newitz writes about the intersection of science and culture. She's the editor-in-chief of and the author of a forthcoming book about how humans will survive a mass extinction.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Annalee Newitz