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Geek Love: A Novel by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love: A Novel (original 1989; edition 2002)

by Katherine Dunn

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4,5111131,074 (4.02)236
Title:Geek Love: A Novel
Authors:Katherine Dunn
Info:Vintage (2002), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, RL Book Circle

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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)


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Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
I wish I could say that what made me the queasiest about Geek Love was the novel's arguably exploitative approach to telling a story about exploitation, but truthfully, it was the parade of horrifying plot elements that most turned my stomach. A partial catalogue of the appalling incidents that are fitted into these 350 pages: the intentional creation of a variety of birth defects, human specimens preserved in formaldehyde, serial elective amputations on a mass scale, a would-be murderer capitalizing years later on an opportunity to rape some of his victims, incestuous desires to varying degrees requited and consummated, questionably elective lobotomies, a grotesquely modified horse. That these are rendered with genuinely sickening force is evidence, no doubt, of some real powers on the part of the author, and I would like to hold open the theoretical possibility that such elements could be combined into a novel with serious moral force. Here, however, they come together for no greater purpose I could discern than to shock and disgust. I hoped until the final chapters to be struck by a vision that would be original and transporting, and almost certainly very disturbing--my naive mistake. Rather than a vision, what I saw was ultimately a collection of views into an unremittingly cruel imagined world, with no more interesting comment on the world I recognize than what I could find in a campus bathroom stall. ( )
  erijens | Sep 14, 2016 |
This will have been one of the best books of the year, probably. Really gripping and touching, and really freaky and crazy. It's also written really well, I haven't read such beautiful and coherent prose in a long time.
Recommended to absolutely everyone. But keep an open mind. This is a crazy book about very different people. But the writer makes them very approachable and easy to relate to. ( )
  avalinah | Sep 11, 2016 |
I thought the premise of this book was amazing. Deformed children that were made as a result drug experimentation and toxin exposure? Children deliberately engineered to be freaks so they could become main attractions in their parents travel carnival? Unfortunately for me, this book did not live up to my expectations. At times it was entertaining and boggling, but overall it felt disjointed. I did not become emotionally invested in any of the characters, until the last couple of chapters. I found myself thinking "I just don't care what happens to them" through more than two-thirds of the book. I did enjoy the last couple of chapters when we found out the fate of the twins and the rest of the carnival, and the way Dunn tied everything together made for an outstanding conclusion. I just wish I would've felt that way before the last 50 pages. ( )
  BrittanyLyn | Jul 22, 2016 |
A carnival owner and his wife decide to "create" their own sideshow attractions by experimenting with drugs, radiation, and the like during pregnancy.

With that outlandish premise, Dunn leads the reader through the tent flap and, gradually, deeper and deeper into the bizarre and isolated world of the traveling carnival that incubates the Binewski children. The five children are: Arty, born with flippers for arms and legs; the conjoined twins Elly and Iphy; the narrator, an albino, hunchback dwarf named Olympia; and baby Chick, with the most special powers of all. As they grow up, separated from the world, never really sure where the carnival is at any particular time, and constantly reinforced with how special they are when compared to the "norms," a certain warping is bound to occur. We are fully ensnared by this time as Dunn gradually ratchets up the horror, introducing more demented characters and increasingly grotesque elements, but we've paid our money and we're going to look. Even as we silently think that she can't go there, that is indeed where Dunn chooses to go.

But yet, despite the grotesqueness and strangeness of these characters and this story, it is at its essence about family: what makes a family, what we will do for our families, what our families do to us. This book is not just about ogling freaks. It's about contemplating the freak inside. ( )
2 vote sturlington | May 10, 2016 |
Awhile ago I stumbled on a book called [b:Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes|6794918|Wired Love A Romance of Dots and Dashes|Ella Cheever Thayer|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1328339672s/6794918.jpg|6999631], which was a pretty charming story about two telegraph operators finding love via, well, the telegraph. (Yeah, it's from 1879. Every once in a while I like to get old-school with my reading.) So when I saw someone reading a book called Geek Love on the subway, I thought maybe it would make for a fun review to compare telegraph-operator romance with computer-geek romance.

So I open Geek Love, and it begins like this:

"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!'"

So it turns out that "geek" is also an old term for a circus performer who bites the heads off of live chickens. [In defense of my assumption, I maintain that the cover looks much more computer-geek-related than carnival-geek-related. And do not tell me that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Book covers are made for judging.]

From the very beginning, then, I was off balance; this book is basically the antithesis of the sweet or charming romance I'd expected to find. The narrator, Olympia, is an albino hunchback dwarf: a set of words I find impossible to say out loud without feeling I'm setting up an absurd and probably offensive joke. But I couldn't stop reading because I was so fascinated by the surreality. The dwarf's parents (the aforementioned geek, Lil, and Al the carnival barker) experimented with radiation and other toxins during Lil's pregnancies. Why? Because:

"What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?"

In other words, the more physically deformed you can make your children, the better off they'll be, because they'll always be able to get jobs as circus freaks. I love the deeply disturbing logic to this statement.

The first bit of the book introduces us to a late-middle-aged Olympia, to her elderly and somewhat senile mother Lil, and to Olympia's only other living family: a daughter who was raised by nuns as an orphan, and doesn't know Olympia is her mother. Then the book flashes back to Olympia's experience as a child in her parents' traveling carnival, growing up with an older brother who has flippers for limbs, sisters who are conjoined twins, and later a little brother who looks normal but has a kind of telekinetic power. I'll avoid any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the relationships among the siblings gets pretty dark and twisted, until you think it couldn't possibly get any more dark and twisted, until it does.

Part of me thinks there is a satirical bent to this novel, in its sly suggestions that extreme freakishness is preferably to normalcy. Consider this:

If all these pretty women could shed the traits that made men want them (their prettiness) then they would no longer depend on their own exploitability but would use their talents and intelligence to become powerful. Miss Lick has great faith in the truth of this theory. She herself is an example of what can be accomplished by one unencumbered by natural beauty. So am I.

Are we meant to believe that women -- or, at least, some women -- would be better off not being pretty? I am honestly not sure. Isn't that line of thought similar to the one that leads me to hope my younger sister doesn't get too distracted by boys in high school, so that she can focus on her schoolwork? In that context, it doesn't sound so bad. But take it just a step further, and you become Miss Lick, offering women money if they will let her destroy their beauty. Or a step beyond that, and you become Olympia's flipper-boy brother, Arturo, preaching that happiness can be attained by voluntary self-mutilation.

Two things I know for sure: (1) I will be thinking about this book for a long time (it was fascinating and disturbing and very well-written), and (2) I probably need to stop referring to myself as a geek. Wait, does "nerd" have any double meanings I need to know about? ( )
1 vote BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
Als untalentiertestes von fünf Wunderkindern aufzuwachsen ist nicht leicht. Als kleinwüchsige, bucklige Albina das gewöhnlichste von fünf Kindern zu sein, ist wohl mehr als nur „nicht leicht“. Binewskis. Zerfall einer radioaktiven Familie ist nicht nur die Geschichte einer Familie, die sich spektakulär von innen heraus zersetzt, sondern ein Roman, der ganz unauffällig wichtige Fragen an die moderne Gesellschaft stellt.
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This thing of darkness I Acknowledge mine.
—Prospero, The Tempest 5.1.275–6
For Eli Malachy Dunn Dapolonia
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"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."
It’s interesting that when these individuals choose--and it is their choice always--to endure voluntary amputations for their own personal benefit, society professes itself shocked and disapproving. Yet this same society respects the concept that any individual should risk total annihilation in war, subject to the judgment of any superior officer at all and for the purposes ranging from a promotion for the lieutenant to higher profits for the bullet company. Hell, they don’t just respect that idea, they flat expect it. And they’ll shoot your ass if you don’t go along with it. (Arty)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375713344, Paperback)

A wild, often horrifying, novel about freaks, geeks and other aberrancies of the human condition who travel together (a whole family of them) as a circus. It's a solipsistic funhouse world that makes "normal" people seem bland and pitiful. Arturo the Aqua-Boy, who has flippers and an enormous need to be loved. A museum of sacred monsters that didn't make it. An endearing "little beetle" of a heroine. Sort of like Tod Browning's Freaks crossed with David Lynch and John Irving and perhaps George Eliot -- the latter for the power of the emotions evoked.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Aloysious and Lillian Binewski, proprietors of a traveling carnival, attempt to reduce overhead by breeding their own freak show, with tragic results.

(summary from another edition)

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