“It feels to Michael as if his heart is being punched to death.”
“Breed: A Novel” by Chase Novak
Perhaps I expected a little too much. Maybe I should have reminded myself that I’ve only actually encountered a handful of Stephen King books that I enjoyed. But when I saw “The best horror novel I’ve read since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story” from Stephen King stamped on the cover and an intriguing synopsis about a mysterious procedure for fertility that turns parents into monsters, I was really, really excited. I spotted Chase Novak’s Breed in a bookstore one day, was enchanted by the description, and then eagerly rushed out to get it the moment I had some extra moolah. I guess I really do have to stop judging a book by its cover, because I have not been so utterly disappointed with a book since Dan Simmons’s Drood, which was a staggering let-down.
The concept was such a great one, which might also add to my disappointment. Alex is a rich New Yorker from Old Money, Leslie is a pretty typical young woman in love with his house, and then they fall in love with each other and get married. Turns out they have trouble conceiving and, while Leslie is fine with adopting, Alex has this big legacy to continue, so they desperately turn to some cracked-out doctor in Slovenia for a radical fertility treatment that turns them into monsters. I was hoping for a lot of suspense and mystery laying out the nature of these beasts they become, but everything is pretty much laid out for you right from the get-go. They’re basically werewolves, and they’re going to eventually want to eat the children they worked so hard to get. This isn’t a spoiler. We basically know this right from the start, which really dissolves a lot of the potential tension and horror that this book could have supplied. I found the nature of the beasts not only disappointing, but also transparent and unimaginative. Novak tries to be clever with his modern take on monsters, but it more often than not borders on cheesy. I suppose the book could be overly cheesy on purpose, but that’s too much of a stretch. It really needed to decide whether it was taking itself seriously or not.
My boyfriend helpfully found some other reviews that felt similarly to Breed that I did, but it seems to be a bit of a critical darling, and I just do not get it. It is slated as being a “literary horror” book, and if this is what “literary” writing has become, I weep for literature. At first, I’ll admit, Novak’s style of making quip-like descriptions and throwing in little metaphors was quaint and charming, but it’s a style best used for a short story, because it very quickly became annoying and felt incredibly lazy. Take the quote at the beginning of this review. “It feels to Michael as if his heart is being punched to death.” I had to stop and read that one out loud for how bad it was, and, while I feel that was the worst offense, the book is littered with phrases like that which seem neither literary or even very good. There is no strong connection with the characters; Novak moves along with his narrative so swiftly that you can’t really appreciate the changes they go through. Often, something really cool and interesting is happening, and, just as you really start to get into it, oh, never mind, we’re already moving onto the next thing and the previous thing is not even likely to be touched on again for the rest of the book. I was also really hoping that the house, which establishes itself as a character itself on the very first page, would become like a brooding, looming presence through the hold thing, much like in Mark Daneilewski’s iconic House of Leaves, but, alas. It is not to be. If we can’t even get Novak to flesh out our main human characters, I suppose it is a little too much for a setting to develop in such a fine, nuanced way.
As it happens, as I was plowing through to eagerly get to the eventual end of Breed, I was reading through a small collection of some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories. I am incredibly biased toward Hawthorne; he’s one of my favorite writers. But just diving into the melodrama and the suspense he builds in “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “The Birthmark,” and the classic twist of “Young Goodman Brown,” it just highlights why, more often than not, modern “horror” just doesn’t cut it for me. If Breed is what’s popular in literary horror right now, I think I’ll just lean on the classics, thank you. In fact, I’d rather go back and read Drood. At least Drood could genuinely scare me (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Drood was not intending to be modern but, in fact, was calling up the classic gothic terror that lurked in the minds of truly frightening men).
Books read: 002/100.