Thursday, May 28, 2009

Geek Love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Warner Books, 1990 edition
(my edition is not the edition pictured)
trade paperback - 355 pages
contemporary literature
ISBN-13: 9780446391306
Very Highly Recommended

Description from the back cover::
Geek Love is the story of a carnival family, the Binewskis, who save their traveling "Carnival Fabulon" from bankruptcy by giving birth to fabulous freaks - the children born to Lil Binewski after she ingests drugs, insecticides, arsenic, radioisotopes, anything to make her babies more "special." The result is a world readers have never entered before, a place of horror and humor, where vengeance and love are realized in unimaginable ways. And where some unforgettable "Ripley's Believe It or Not" characters are both exotically unique - and hauntingly, chillingly, just like us.
I never would have picked up this book if not for book bloggers. The title alone would have made me pass it by, thinking it was a love story featuring computer geeks. It's not a love story. This is really a disturbing, twisted, revolting, horror story about sibling rivalry, a freak show, cults, and family bonds. This is a world where being a "norm" is a bad thing. Think of the original usage of "geek" as in circus geeks. The narrator of Geek Love is Olympia Binewski, or Oly, a bald, albino, hunchbacked dwarf. She and her siblings were all bred by their parents, Art and Lily, to be oddities. Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and performs swimming inside a tank, soon learns how to manipulate his audience. Electra and Iphigenia, or Elly and Iphy, the Siamese twins are accomplished pianists. Fortunato, nicknamed Chick, appears normal, but has a mysterious gift. Oly's story about her family slowly unfolds in two time frames, some chapters tell the reader what happened in the past and some are "notes for now" about the present.

Geek Love is very likely a love it/hate it book. It can be disgusting. There are a few problems late in the book with the plot and the writing isn't always exemplary, but, basically if you've made it far enough into Geek Love to notice the problems, you don't care. You will finish the book. When a writer can introduce you to a dark, shocking story and completely immerse you in the tale, then it's a successful novel.
Very Highly Recommended - but not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach


"When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing. 'Spread your lips, sweet Lil,' they'd cluck, 'and show us your choppers!' " opening

"Al was a standard-issue Yankee, set on self-determination and independence, but in that crisis his core of genius revealed itself. He decided to bred his own freak show." pg. 7

"It was this passion that made her an eager partner in Al's scheme. She was willing to chip in on any effort to renew public interest in the show. Then, too, the idea of inherited security was ingrained from her childhood. As she often said, 'What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?' " pg. 7

"It was a disappointment when I emerged with such commonplace deformities. My albinism is the regular pink-eyed variety and my hump, although pronounced, is not remarkable in size or shape as humps go. My situation was far too humdrum to be marketable on the same scale as my brother's and sisters'. Still, my parents noted that I had a strong voice and decided that I might be an appropriate shill and talker for the business. A bald albino hunchback seemed the right enticement toward the esoteric talents of the rest of the family. The dwarfism, which was very apparent by my third birthday, came as a pleasant surprise to the patient pair and increased my value. pg. 8

"I'm never sure how deaf she is. She always hears the ring of the pay phone in the hall but she may pick up its vibration in her slippered heels. She is also blind. Her thick, pink glasses project huge filmy eyes." pg. 11

"Lily chose to forget me and I choose not to remind her, but I am terrified of seeing shame or disgust in my daughter's face. It would kill me. So I stalk and tend them both secretly, like a midnight gardener." pg. 13

"Those poor hoptoads behind me are silent. I've conquered them. They thought to use and shame me but I win out by nature, because a true freak cannot be made. A true freak must be born." pg. 20

" 'One of my teachers says I draw like a mass murderer. I hate that ditsy crap, though. Inchy little lines like the hesitation cuts on a suicide's wrist.' " pg. 25

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