Geek Love

~by Katherine Dunn
1989 National Book Award Finalist
1990 Bram Stoker Award Nominee
1990 Locus Award Nominee

I've participated in LibraryThing's SantaThing program since it's inception. One year I asked for something bizarre, weird, or strange, and also gave assurance that I wasn't easily offended. LibraryThing member fyrefly98 (who also has a marvelous book blog) selected Geek Love by Katherine Dunn for me. This rather odd story was a fantastic choice. Not having been previously aware of Geek Love, I thought the book was much newer than it actually is, partially because of the cover design (which apparently caused quite a stir initially, appropriately flaunting it's unconventional aesthetics). Written in 1983 (and fully published in 1989) it was a finalist for both the 1989 National Book Award and the 1990 Bram Stoker Award. It took me nearly a year to get around to reading it, but I am so glad that I finally did.

Aloysius and Crystal Lil own and manage the Binewski Fabulon, a traveling carnival. When it looked as thought the business was beginning to fail, they set out to change matters and genetics. By combining drug concoctions and other dubious methods, they plan to create their own freakshow with their own children. There is Arturo, the enigmatic AquaBoy, born with flippers rather than limbs; the beautiful and charming conjoined twins Iphigenia and Electra; poor Olympia is only an albino dwarf with a small hunchback; and Furtunato, better known as Chick, unfortunately looks like a norm--but his mental powers are astounding. Geek Love is a story about a family not afraid of being different and who are quite proud of their uniqueness. But it also the story of their struggles as they grow, so fixated and obsessed with being special that it can only end in tragedy.

Geek Love is primarily told in the first person by Oly, although the narrative occasionally slips into the third person. The text of personal notes, diaries, and newspaper clippings are also included. Overall, it seemed a bit disjointed, but it makes sense when at the end it is revealed that all of these material have been collected together--ultimately it's not so much a book as it is a box full of family memorabilia. The family dynamics portrayed are intense but really no different than what would be seen from a "normal" family. It isn't the characters' physical peculiarities that make them monsters, but their personalities and their actions towards one another and those outside the family. Sibling rivalry doesn't often directly result in physical violence, but the extreme mental and emotional manipulations are exceedingly harsh and damaging, especially those initiated by Arty. Despite the fantastical and often unbelievable nature of the story, at its heart it comes across as brutally authentic.

Geek Love is definitely not for everyone (I know of more than one person who was offended or utterly repulsed by the book) but I thought it was incredible. Generally, I was much more interested in the history of the Binewski family (which really is most of the book) rather than the "Notes for Now" sections which followed Oly and her daughter Miranda. The ending of the book did seem a little rushed to me, but the book as a whole was very well paced--I was completely engaged by the story and could hardly tear myself away from my morbid fascination. Appalling, disturbing, and bizarre, Geek Love is intense and not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. It's been a while since a book has affected me to such an extent, but I was completely blown away. Geek Love has made a lasting impression; I'll certainly be thinking about it for quite some time and I'll definitely be holding onto my copy. Thanks again, Fyrefly!

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