My first introduction to Sarah Pinborough’s writing was Feeding Ground. When I then saw Breeding Ground on our reading list for this term, I went rifling through my shelves for the first book. It’s a good thing I never found it. Not only would I have been doing my assignment on the wrong book, but I would have missed the opportunity to read another great work by Pinborough. Although both books were sheer genius, they were both different enough from one another that I feel they are two stand alone books that contain similar creatures and situations. And talk about girl power!
As it stands, I read Breeding Ground during the residency at Seton Hill, so I viewed the book through the lens of the same module that taints just about everything I see since taking it, “Origin of the Species: Creating Other Races” (Yes, thank you, Mr. Johnson, for yet another way to dissect every possible thing. Even Spongebob is no longer safe.) The world in which Pinborough builds her creatures is one that we recognize as current day England. Matt and Chloe are introduced to us as average folks, in a committed relationship, who have just found out they are expecting a baby. Simply realizing they’ve found a person they’d like to build a life with is enough to send some people into conniption fits. Add the anticipation of a baby, and the situation becomes horrifying. Relationships and parenthood are two pretty universal situations that create some level of fear in many people.
Just as we recognize the challenges this couple faces, we also recognize that the real fear Matt and Chloe harbor over her unnatural weight gain is something other than the usual pregger pangs and misgivings. Through Matt’s eyes, we see, “Her greasy hair hung lankly over her shoulders, exaggerating the puffy face with dark bags around the eyes. In that grey light of dawn I could see the fat she’d accumulated on her thickened hips and thighs, looking lumpy and swollen under her pale skin…I fought a wave of revulsion” (Pinborough, 11). This heart-wrenching view of Chloe, rendered by the man who loves her, is frightening. Up until page twenty four, the reader may think this could just be the presentation of some underlying issues Matt and Chloe had between one another before the onset of the pregnancy. However, once Matt corners the doctor in the pub and the doctor tells him that it isn’t just them, we suddenly understand that this is quite a problem.
Armed with this information, Matt then steps from the pub in a familiar world into one where the rules had changed. Something was happening to the women in town. There was a shortage of meat in the markets and the men were suffering from massive headaches while the women gained more and more weight. Then Pinborough introduces us to more traits of her creatures. They obviously reside inside the women, and allow the women to speak to one another telepathically. They can also use their minds to manipulate the bodies of those around them. Chloe admits to Matt that she, “[is] not [herself] anymore. [She’s] something different. And [she] can’t control it for much longer” (Pinborough, 47). Her admission is only slightly more terrifying than the fact that Matt believes her to still be carrying their child and he has no way to deliver the child and rescue it and Chloe from the menace that stalked them all. Once we have the picture of the partially eaten body of the fetus on the kitchen floor, we understand that Chloe is now Other. She states, “I think there’s something else growing inside me…A different baby…A new kind of baby” (Pinborough, 49)
Matt escapes, and the world becomes increasingly less familiar with the vacant streets and buildings he encounters. One thing that can be recognized, however, is the scattered clues Pinborough gives us about her creatures. They emit “some kind of gossamer…shimmering on the ceiling and lights” (Pinborough, 64). They have “milky, translucent leg[s], thin and sharply jointed…[they] understood what [they were] doing” (Pinborough, 66). These creatures were spider like. But since Matt and his fellow survivors knew they were still somehow different from spiders, they decide to name them “widows”.
In creating the monsters that have the main qualities of spiders, Pinborough remains true to arachnid behavior and characteristics. The creatures have eight legs and rounded bodies. They also spin webs and “they left trails of some kind of slime wherever they had been” (Pinborough, 99). They have two mouths with two sets of mandibles. Yet they are different enough that they are scarier than the average spider. These creatures have see through skin on their bodies that “quivered like a distended water balloon” (Pinborough, 124). And unlike spiders, the widows “release in…unholy high-pitched wail[s] that [seem] to come through [their] damp skin rather than mouths” (Pinborough, 124).
The demise of the widows could be brought about with old fashioned combat, fire, electricity or the unique method of the blood of “genetically inferior” animals. It made sense to me that a species looking to take over the world would not want to introduce genetic material that it considered flawed into its gene pools. Actually, for the long run, such inclusion may have been a good idea in furthering the widows’ cause by building an immunity to the defects as weapons, but in the short run, it creates a mechanism by which they can be fought and possibly beaten.
Aside from the authors’ interesting and realistic crafting of the monster species, I did have questions about the situations set forth. I never quite understood why Matt slept with Katie, knowing what was happening to the other females. I do understand that having sex is a primal urge, and oftentimes, people facing death wish to feel alive through the act. But considering what was at risk, I’m thinking they should have abstained. I also wonder about Matt and Rebecca’s baby. Would the baby be okay, even if it was a female? Because there was no complete explanation of how the creatures got into the uteri of the females, I wonder if Jane would have eventually carried one, even if she remained a virgin.
Despite my wanting to know more in the aftermath, none of these questions needed to be answered for Breeding Ground to be a great study in creature crafting, or an enjoyable read.
Pinborough, Sarah. Breeding Ground. New York: Dorchester, 2011. Digital.