Friday, January 16, 2015


This horror thriller by Scott Spencer writing as Chase Novak is a real page-turner, as a deep under-current of satire keeps it buoyant.

Miranda July referred to the book in the By the Book column in the NY Times Book Review on Sunday and I was intrigued enough to download it on my Kindle. I interrupted my reading of Gutenberg's Apprentice -- a good book, but somewhat ponderous -- for this romp through Gothic horror in modern Manhattan.

Leslie and Alex Twisden have tried every form of fertility help and are desperate enough to make the trek to Slovenia to see a specialist who has had miraculous success in helping previously infertile couples produce children. Dr. Kis is successful once again and the couple raises the twins Adam and Alice. The narrative resumes when the twins are 10 and at a critical point in their lives.

It was evident from the beginning that Dr. Kis's treatment -- which relied on an injection of "completely organic" extractions and a special serum -- had some peculiar side effects. In using what we later find out are lupine and ursine hormones to enhance fertility, the good doctor transmitted some other physical and psychological traits from the animal kingdom.

Spencer/Novak is having a lot of fun with this book. Modern obsessions about appearances, prestige, food and, well, having children, are all mocked mercilessly. The horror is real enough -- you never know terrible thing is going to happen next -- but much of the narrative is tongue in cheek, with a sly irony that is profoundly satirical. Dr. Kis, after all, and a novel called Breed where the first litter is named with A's.

Spencer is an accomplished writer. His prose breezes along with occasional lyrical flourish as he shifts effortlessly among various points of view interspersed with old-fashioned commentary as an omniscient narrator. The characters are sympathetic and the reader stays with both the parents and the children as the tension between them comes to a head.

It was a good tip.

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