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Miss Conduct Reads: "Breed" by Chase Novak

Posted by Robin Abrahams  November 14, 2012 03:53 PM

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Welcome to a new feature, "Miss Conduct Reads" -- quick takes on the social world of fiction. 

"Chase Novak" is the pseudonym-that-isn't of Scott Spencer, one of those respected but never-quite-famous literary authors. The 'nym signifies a change of genre, from New Yorker-esque broodings on mortality and intimacy and parenthood by unreliably monogam-ish middle-aged men, to horror, in Breed

Like, with mad scientists and people turning into werewolves and stuff. 

Totally up Miss Conduct's alley, in other words. 

Horror is usually thought of as the opposite of the genteel or satirical comedy of manners. The social novel (from Pride and Prejudice to The Freedoms) is the serene blue on the color wheel; horror, the louche orange. 

And yet, when you look past the surface tropes, horror is often fundamentally concerned with social life. How do people solve problems together that they've never had to solve before? (You can read in-depth case studies and academic articles on this at Harvard Business School ... or you can read Dracula.) How do we cope with change? How do we figure out whom we can trust and whom we can't? Which of our social rules and rituals are valuable and important, and which ones are kind of silly and outdated? 

At least for me, it didn't seem that Mr. Spencer was making all that much of a change, genre-wise. (And his eye for keen descriptive language is intact as ever -- a teacher describes his text-addicted students as "hold[ing] their phones out like Hamlet addressing Yorick's skull.")

Breed is about a young-ish couple, a privileged household of the 1%, who have everything but children. Seeking fertility treatments in an Eastern European country, they eventually get the beautiful twins they desire ... along with some unpleasant side effects. 

I don't have children, so my experiences of the terrible, ravenous depths of maternal love have mostly been on the buy-side, which let's face it can be scary enough. The dual imperatives of parenthood to provide for one's child, often far in excess of actual need, and to almost consume the child, to want to re-integrate that body back into yourself, where it started--"I could eat you up!"--Mr. Spencer puts some unforgettable images to that impulse. 

And when parents are as wealthy as Alex and Leslie Twisden, living in the hypercompetitive parenting world of the Upper East Side, there isn't much to put a curb on those maddening desires. 

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Breed is disturbing and funny and very visual, and when they eventually make a movie of it, I hope Jessica Pare is cast as Leslie Twisden. She's already proven her Manhattan trophy-wife credentials in "Mad Men," and with her almost feral physical energy and that overbite, she'd be believable as a society lady reduced to dining on the help. 


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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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