Book Review: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Preview… Have you ever been stuck in horrible traffic—the kind where your complete lack of momentum causes you to slam down on your horn and grind your teeth in frustration? Eventually after having spent too much time in the slowly moving line, you discover a multicar pile-up as the source of the impasse. Rather than speed away quickly, happy to be free of the encumbrance, you inch by, gawking at the wreckage. That, my friends, is what Katherine Dunn’s novel “Geek Love” is like. You’ll feel a bit guilty for staring at the suffering of others, but you just can’t help yourself. It’s too tragic, too beautiful in its own disgusting way …
We follow two story lines. The first recounts the childhood of the Binewski children. The family’s ringmaster Al develops an ingenious plan to breed performers for his freak show by encouraging his wife to ingest drugs and other toxic chemicals during pregnancy. The result is a daunting success. They give the world: Arturo the “Aqua Boy” who has marine-like flippers instead of arms and legs; Iphy and Ely, a sexy set of conjoined twins; Fortunato, who appears normal but possesses the powers of telekinesis; and Oly, our narrator, a hunchbacked albino dwarf.
The eldest, Arturo, has an excessively manipulative and jealous personality. When the twins’ side show proves to be more popular than his, he begins a cult religion. Arturism seeks out the core principles of peace, isolation and purity. The surest way to achieve this ideal is through progressive amputation, beginning with the fingers and toes and working one’s way up to the full removal of the arms and legs.
Our second storyline takes place further into the future, after the dissolution of the side show. Oly keeps watch over her daughter, the beautiful almost normal Miranda, whose only deformity is the presence of a small tail that she uses to her advantage as a part-time stripper. Miranda is unaware of her freakish parentage. Oly learns of the wealthy Ms. Lick’s plan to “help” her daughter by performing a disfiguring operation, which she claims will free Miranda (and those like her) from the limitations of their beauty so that they may live up to their full potential. Our narrator will stop at nothing to protect her family.
Sound intriguing? Give “Geek Love” a try, I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it!
You may like this book if… you are interested in the imagined outcomes of genetic manipulation; you’re looking for something different; you are intrigued by the mysticism surrounding cults and their founders; you want to meet characters that you will never forget—even if you try; you like to question what’s normal and what makes somebody an outsider; you’d like to read a story that is ultimately about family and what ties us together.
You may not like this book if… you’re the type of person who pushes the accelerator down without feeling the least bit curious about the wreckage.