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Geek Love

2011 November 17

I like to reserve Thursday for Fashion Book  posts, but when it comes to the book I finished yesterday, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, I just couldn’t do it. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand my hesitation. Geek Love is one of the strangest, most twisted, and most imaginative books I’ve ever read. How could I even begin to conceive of an outfit for a hunchbacked albino midget, siamese twins, an exotic dancer with a tail, or a frozen food heiress with a penchant for disfiguring surgeries? There’s only so far my own imagination can go sometimes.

I found many things about Geek Love repellent, beginning with the idea that two “norm” parents, Lil and Al Binewski, would purposely breed children with specific abnormalities (freaks, if you will) in order to keep their traveling carnival in business. Al puts Lil on a pregnancy regimen of amphetamines, cocaine, arsenic, and other toxins, resulting in a brood of truly extraordinary offspring (including some children who didn’t quite make it). There’s Arty, the boy with fins instead of arms or legs; Iphy and Elly, the siamese twins who share one set of legs and two very different personalities among them; Chick, the sensitive and outwardly “normal” boy with astounding mental abilities; and Oly, our narrator, an albino dwarf with a hump and an amazing voice.

The story of the Binewski family and their traveling “fabulon” is every bit as fantastical and surprising as one would expect from the premise, but Dunn goes even further, pushing the envelope of contemporary fiction, challenging us with every chapter. The characters are dark, even depraved in most cases, and the things that happen are not suitable for young children. I had to put the book down the handful of times I attempted to read it during lunch or breakfast. But ultimately, I couldn’t put it down, and though I was disgusted, I was also fascinated by what was happening in the book. The Binewski family saga quickly spins out of control, and I’m not quite sure where the ending came from, but I know I won’t forget this book. I only wish I had read it for a book club, because there’s so many things to discuss.

Have any of you read it? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. November 17, 2011

    AHHHHHH!!!!! We read this one in our book club over a year ago, and it is still by far one of my favorite reads (in and out of book club). I know it’s twisted and terrible and awful, but I also found it moving and wonderful and beautiful. It was rather upsetting at times (to say the least), but it was just so impressive and well-done that I somehow didn’t care? It’s hard to explain, I think, if you haven’t read it. It was ideal to have read with a group too (sorry, salt in the wound?) not only because there was so much to discuss, but also because if I remember correctly we all were also a little uncomfortable with just how much we enjoyed it.

    As a book club we went out to the bars a few weeks later and one of my friends asked our waiter, “Have you read Geek Love?” He was cute and responded, “I haven’t read Geek Love, but I practice it.” It was an adorable response (and I think she got his number?) but he clearly was not familiar with the premise of the book.

    The saddest thing about this book for me is the unfortunate circumstance that I have never been able to bring myself to recommend it to anyone.

  2. November 17, 2011

    this one is sitting on my bookshelf right now. NEED to READ!


  3. November 17, 2011

    I loved Geek Love! we read it for book club last year. or maybe two years ago. it all blurs together. Kyley came up with a fascinating theory about how it parallels the Bible. where Chick is Jesus… I can’t remember the rest, but someone was Mary and someone was God the father and I think there might have even been a holy spirit. I should get the specifics from her. haha this is a useless comment so far.

    I think the repulsion factor might be part of WHY it was so appealing to me–like, for me, it wasn’t about looking past how ugly/weird it was, it was about being drawn to how ugly/weird it was. just like the Bineski family, I guess.

    but man, how creepy was that lady who was obsessed with disfiguring surgeries? shudder.

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