So my "hey, I should read more horror" notion is thus far limited to picking up horror-lookin' ARCs when they come in at work, with predictably mixed results. (Totally taking nominations.) Chase Novak*'s Breed didn't set me on fire (which, huh, how did that get to be a positive metaphor), but it's well-crafted, well-written, imbued with a strong sense of place, and genuinely scary and grotesque in places. Definitely a Like!
The place is Manhattan, a setting that's indeed been done and done--I'd be interested to see a statistical analysis of books and movies set in NYC as compared to the proportion of the U.S. population who actually lives here. But Spencer conjures it in meticulous though casual detail--cross streets as shorthand for whole ways of life, from rarefied private schools and families of four that live in three-story brownstones by themselves instead of in an apartment chopped out of a quarter of a floor . . . to two grown men in a 600-square-foot existence, "continually trying to navigate around each other, like dancers unsure of the choreography." Also, because I am just enough of a New Yorker now to be totally ignorant about the city outside my corner of it, the book alerted me to the existence of this badass statue of fifteenth-century Polish king Jagiello, in Central Park.
In the former, monied stratum, Alex and Leslie Twisden try in vain to conceive for three years, swapping stories of fertility doctors with other couples until they get a lead on a Slovenian physician named Kis ("[h]e looks like one of those concert pianists in the movies, the kind who are struck with amnesia or who hear voices, who triumph briefly in the concert hall and then descend into madness") with a mysterious magic-bullet treatment. And sure enough, after a humiliating and painful series of injections, Leslie becomes pregnant.
And also increasingly hirsute. When she visits a dermatologist about hair removal, she ends up biting through the woman's finger. Meanwhile, Alex tries to track down the couple who originally recommended Dr. Kis, and discovers their apartment abandoned in shambles, the stinking refrigerator filled with Ziplocked corpses of rats, squirrels, and hamsters. He eats one of the latter in four bites--"[i]t is easily and without question the most delicious thing he has ever tasted."
Yet all this is merely prologue to the main action ten years later, where the Twisden twins, Adam and Alice, live in seeming privilege but are locked in their rooms every night, listening through the wee hours to noises both sexual and violent issuing from the rest of the house, where the furniture falls progressively into disrepair, often shredded. Their escape and subsequent flight from their parents and towards unsettling truths about their origins is harrowing, tense . . . and a lot of fun to read.
*(This is a pseudonym for Scott Spencer, author of literary novels I haven't read, most famously Endless Love. Except every scrap of promotional material I've seen for the book says so, posing the question: how can a pseudonym be a pseudonym when the author's real name is on the back of the book? Discuss.)