- Fizzy Thoughts: Geek Love

Geek Love

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

geek love

Geek Love

Katherine Dunn


348 pages



I've been home for the last two days with an upset stomach, and this wasn't perhaps the wisest of reading choices for a queasy tummy.  But I've finished the book (and oddly enough, my stomach is feeling better, too) and it's incredible weirdness has prompted me to delay writing reviews of the two books I read prior (The (amazing) Lace Reader and Going to Bend) in order to get this one posted.

So it's official.  This is the weirdest book I've ever read.  Weirder even than The Roaches Have No King, and I thought that would be a hard book to replace.  However, when I say weird, I don't mean weird bad.  I mean weird as in I can't believe people actually think up story lines like this.  And then make money.  And then get nominated for the National Book Award.

Geek Love is about the Binewski family.  Father Al owns a carnival, and in an attempt to create the most fabulous sideshow acts ever, his wife Lil (who started her carnival career as a geek (and make sure you read the whole first paragraph of that link)) corrupts each of her pregnancies with all sorts of toxic stuff (drugs, radioisotopes) in hope of giving birth to a freak.  And it works...first there is Arturo, who has flippers instead of limbs, then Elly and Iphy, Siamese twins, and Oly (the narrator), who although an albino and hunchbacked, isn't quite freakish enough for sideshow status.  The baby, Chick, appears distressingly normal until they figure out his mind can control objects.

So there you have it.  The happy family Binewski, who feel sorry for the norms of the world.  If that's not weird enough for you, there's more.  Charismatic Arturo becomes a cult figure, and people flock to the carnival to hear him speak and join his followers, the Arturans, who believe true happiness is obtained by lopping off extraneous body parts.  Al turns to drink as Arturo begins to take control of the carnival and the family and Lil's mind is eaten up by all the drugs.  The twins discover sex, and Oly is torn by her love for everyone.  Well, almost everyone...she's not too fond of Elly.  Not too far off from regular family drama...because despite all the twisted genetic mutations, this is still a family.

But wait, there's even more.  Because all that is the past.  Almost 20 years later, Oly, our narrator, is living in Portland, working at a radio station, when she is made aware of Miss Lick, a rich businesswoman who apparently pays for corrective surgery.  Suspicious of her motives, Oly befriends the woman in order to undercover her secrets.  As we slowly discover Miss Lick's intents, Oly takes us back in time to the train wreck that the Binewski family has become.

So what happens?  Well, if you plan to read the book, DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!!  Because I'm about to give away the ending...you've been warned.


First, Chick blows up the carnival, which includes himself and most of his family.  I believe he finally saw Artie for the self-absorbed, ruthless person he was.  And Chick couldn't live with himself for allowing Artie to hurt people.  Only Oly and Lil survive the firestorm that Chick induced.  And I have to confess, I was glad to see Artie go.  Then, back in the present, Oly kills Miss Lick.  Because Miss Lick had offered money to Miranda to have her tail removed.  Yes, Miranda.  Oly's secret daughter, raised by nuns in order to save her from her father (wanna guess who?  although I know you would never guess how).  Miranda appears normal, except for her tail.  And Oly would rather die than let Miss Lick finance the removal of that tail...because that tail is special and beautiful to Oly.  And Miss Lick has a habit of disfiguring people so that they are no longer attractive and are forced to use their brains instead of their appearance.  Carrie, who is currently reading this book, called Miss Lick freaky, and I think she's right.  She ends up being the real freak in the book.


Okay, it's safe to read again.  I'm done with the spoilers.  I added them because they are further examples  of just how far out there this book goes.  And I'm sure there are people out there who don't want to read the book, but still want to know what happens (it's okay, I'm that way with scary movies).  The first ending came as a total surprise, although when I think about, it's pretty much what had to happen.  And the second ending really isn't much of a surprise, because it's hinted at throughout the book.

Obviously, this is not a book for everyone.  It's blunt, gross, and appalling, although not without moments of tenderness.  And that's just the story.  The language is also blunt, gross and appalling.  Luckily, I'm okay with that.  If you can get past the shock of the story, there are messages to be found.  About family, and mother love, and learning to live with and be comfortable with your body.

chartroose hit the nail on the head when she called this book unique.  And I owe her a big thanks for sending it my way.  Because I happen to like weird and unique.  If you, too, are into weird and unique (and don't mind shocking) and would like to read this, I'll send it your way.  Just let me know in the comments by Friday morning.  If there are more than one of you, I'll draw names.

10 comment(s):

Ti said...

I wouldn't mind reading it even though it's "out there". Someone in my book group enjoyed it and could not stop talking about it. My curiosity is up.

trish said...

My friend, Jessica, who's blogging at http://botheyes.wordpress.com (and I think she tagged you for a meme, Jill!) LOVES this book. So yes, I'd love to read it. Weirdness and all.

jaime said...

I read this a few months ago, and also thought it was crazy.... in a great way! I found Oly to be a really touching character.

beastmomma said...

YES! I totally agree with you Fizzy. There is some freaky stuff, but there is also something tender that is underneath.

Veronica said...

Wow I'm definitely curious after that post!

chartroose said...

Yay, you liked it! I was so worried!

Now I'm going to have to read "The Roaches Have No King."

softdrink said...

Oh yes chartroose, you need to read that one! I wouldn't put it on the same level as Geek Love, but it's definitely unique.

bkclubcare said...

I'm still not done reading this but I'm making progress. I will never again challenge you to a race. Unless I have 3 pages left to read, maybe. and I haven't read this post yet either. sigh...

softdrink said...

Carrie, I had an advantage...I was home sick with nothing else to do! Still, I can't wait to hear what you think!

lisamm said...

I'm a day or two late but just wanted to say 'Hola' and wow, this sounds weirdly wonderful. Will definitely check it out.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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