Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater and paterfamilias set out with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes to breed their own exhibit of human oddities There s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family s most precious and dangerous assetAs the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the US inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene Family values will never be the same This book is one that has sat on my shelf for several years, and I honestly have no idea why I didn t pick it up for so long Geek Love is a fantastically interesting novel, with a real focus on character development for the Binewski family, who live in a travelling carnival The parents have 4 children, and during pregnancy their mother experiments with drugs, alcohol, pesticides, etc so that her children can be born with various disabilities and deformities that will allow them to bring money This book is one that has sat on my shelf for several years, and I honestly have no idea why I didn t pick it up for so long Geek Love is a fantastically interesting novel, with a real focus on character development for the Binewski family, who live in a travelling carnival The parents have 4 children, and during pregnancy their mother experiments with drugs, alcohol, pesticides, etc so that her children can be born with various disabilities and deformities that will allow them to bring money in for the carnival.This book is fucked up, as you can imagine from the premise alone Every character is truly fascinating, and all of the children in particular have such fascinating individual personalities that jump off the page Although I didn t feel like I was very emotionally connected while reading the majority of the book, towards the end it surprised me how much I felt for these characters especially with regards to specific plot points that I won t spoil The majority of the book follows the family in chronological order, but there are a couple of chapters that follow the character of Olympia our narrator later in life, and those were the only parts that didn t hold my interest as much If those sections hadn t been there, this would have been a 4.5 star rating at least Overall though it was a fascinating and exhilarating read, and one I would recommend to everyone who considers themselves to have a semi strong stomach Warning this review contains spoilers Read or don t read it accordingly I had a schizophrenic reaction to this book On the one hand, it had aprofound impact on me than books even some truly great ones usually do On the other hand, I thought it was sloppily edited, and Dunn s prose ran the spectrum from sublime to clunky and ridiculous The good Geek Love has a handful of the most memorable characters you ll ever find Arturo the Aqua Boy is deftly handled, a megalomaniacal little tur Warning this review contains spoilers Read or don t read it accordingly I had a schizophrenic reaction to this book On the one hand, it had aprofound impact on me than books even some truly great ones usually do On the other hand, I thought it was sloppily edited, and Dunn s prose ran the spectrum from sublime to clunky and ridiculous The good Geek Love has a handful of the most memorable characters you ll ever find Arturo the Aqua Boy is deftly handled, a megalomaniacal little turd whose true gift is not his freakish nature, but his incredible powers of manipulation His slow seizure of power behind the scenes at the Binewski Fabulon and his exploitation of his followers after the inception of the Aruturan amputation cult are handled perfectly Elly and Iphy, the Siamese twins, are also done well, especially after they blossom into sexual maturity Dunn could have easily fell into trite clich when she has the two conjoined girls bicker and fight, but their personalities are rich enough that it s never an issue Throw in lesser characters like the Bag Man and Dr P, both of whom are hard to stomach for different reasons, and you have a virtuoso ensemble cast I also admire the way the reader s ideas about Al and Crystal Lil as parents changes slowly Aside from dosing his willing wife with bizarre drug cocktails in order to sire a brood of freaks to populate his carnival, Al seems like a model father at the beginning of the book, but our view of him changes as the book progresses The story of the Binewski children and the fiery demise of everything they know is mind blowing To quote the blurb on the back cover, this book throws its sulfurous light on the notion of what s normal and what s freakish, not just in terms of outward appearance, but in our heads as well To say that Geek Love is often unsettling is a rank understatement, but the book holds its dark thrall not by describing the physical deformities embodied by the characters, but by forcing that unflinching view inward In that regard, Geek Love, feels epic and important The Bad Dunn needs an editor with a big red pen and the balls to call her on the carpet when her writing gets way to precious She has a real tendency to over write Often, she makes a nifty turn of phrase, only to bury it with another paragraph of useless description and clunky metaphor While the overall effect of the novel is pretty marvelous, on the sentence level, Dunn is sometimes a hack I was also disappointed in the way Chick s inferno was described Dunn doesn t think twice about spending four or five pages describing, say, the horse Arty has lopped off at the knees She ll write an entire paragraph about Miss Lick cooking popcorn or Chick cleaning Arty s tank But the climax of the novel gets barely a page and leaves readers scratching their heads A bigger editing problem is the whole frame story of the now adult Oly and her quest to save her secret daughter s literal tail The whole Miss Lick saga adds nothing to the book and drags it down It seems added on in an attempt to make the book seemsophisticated, what with the chronological shifts and simultaneous story telling The novel would have been much tighter and stronger had it focused on the story of the Fabulon The Bottom Line This is a book that flirts with being truly great, but only ends up being pretty damn good 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 Geek Love is an amazing book, audacious, moving, beautiful, substantive, creepy, upsetting, tragic and dark So you think of yourself as different, an outsider, a freak in one way or another Well, maybe you are, but your differences would likely fade were you to compare yourself to most of the characters in this best selling novel from Katherine Dunn, so best selling in f 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 Geek Love is an amazing book, audacious, moving, beautiful, substantive, creepy, upsetting, tragic and dark So you think of yourself as different, an outsider, a freak in one way or another Well, maybe you are, but your differences would likely fade were you to compare yourself to most of the characters in this best selling novel from Katherine Dunn, so best selling in fact that it has never been out of print And, in addition to being a popular success, it was a critical one as well, earning a spot as a finalist for the 1989 National Book Award.A word of warning several, actually for those who are familiar only with the contemporary meaning of the word geek Before the word had its DNA mutated to mean an expert, particularly of the techie variety, before serious people proclaimed that the geeks will inherit the earth, the word referred specifically to carnival performers who engaged in the very un nerdy practice of biting the heads off live chickens for paying audiences Let s see a show of hands How many of you folks out there, how many nerds in particular, would be interested in returning to etymological roots and getting your McNuggets started the old fashioned way Not many But you, in the back, with your hand up Do me a favor please and read some other review Thanks Of course this was not a problem for Crystal Lil Somehow it did not freak her husband out that she got off on using her teeth to remove small heads from quivering bodies 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 Binewski s Carnival Fabulon travels the Podunk USA circuit, offering pedestrian locals a peek at the extraordinary The Binewski family will remind no one of Ozzie and Harriet More the Addams family, sans the smirks In fact, they may be the ones who put the nuclear in nuclear family Frustrated by the frequent loss of carnival performers, Aloysius Binewski and his wife, Lilian Hinchcliff Binewski , the Crystal Lil of the geek mention above opt to craft their own, applying measured doses of sundry illegal substances, poisons, and radioisotopes to ensure that their progeny emerge special The efforts that do not make it through to live birth, or who meet an unhappy end soon after their emergence, are displayed publicly in large glass jars The survivors include Siamese twins, Iphigenia Iphy and Elektra Elly , Arturo Arty , the malevolent and megalomaniacal AquaBoy, Fortunato Chick , who manifests telekinetic power, and Olympia Oly , our narrator through this family saga Oly relates the tale of the family to us as an adult She makes a living as radio personality Hopalong McGurk, which is a good venue if you are a bald, albino dwarf with pink eyes, a sweet voice and a hump Reading this book you will forget the boy who lived under the stairs and latch on to the girl who lived under the sink Oly s needs are few, but a connection to family is chief among them She is our insider, observing and reporting the goings on that seem normal to her, but maybe not so much to us What is normal, anyway To you and me, norms for the most part, average height, weight, a typical number of standard issue limbs, no particular magical powers, we stroll the not very broad midway of the straight and narrow But to Olympia Binewski, having a brother with flipper shaped limbs, twins sharing one pair of legs, among sundry other parts, and a brother who can move matter with his mind, and a sense of place defined by the nearest road sign defines normal I was full grown before I even set foot in a house without wheels Of course I had been in stores, offices, fuel stations, barns, and warehouses But I had never walked through the door of a place where people slept and ate and bathed and picked their noses, and, as the saying goes, lived, unless that place was three times longer than it was wide and came equipped with road shocks and tires.When I first stood in such a house I was struck by its terrible solidity The thing had concrete tentacles sunk into the earth, and a sprawling inefficiency Everything was bigger than it needed to be and there were so many shadowed, dusty corners empty and wasted that I thought I would get lost if I stepped away from the door That building wasn t going anywhere despite an itchy sense that it was not entirely comfortable where it was Sometimes that family connection can be problematic Oly is in love with her brother, Arty AquaBoy is exceptionally bright and tuned in to what works on audiences He expands his performance from a display of his unusual form to an interaction, as he finds success answering audience questions He builds this into a very big deal For a while, he answered only generic questions distilled from the scrawled bewilderments and griefs that piled up on the three by five cards Then he stopped answering at all and just told them what he wanted them to hear Testifying he called it And a cult is born, Arturism, in which the Admitted, seeking to find the peace that Arty has persuaded them he possesses, allow their bodies to be whittled a piece at a time Chick was thought to have been a dreaded norm when he arrived Al and Lily decided that, as he was of no value to the show, the proper course was to leave him at a gas station Turns out he has a special gift which manifests in the nick of time He is absorbed into the family, and put to profitable use as soon as he is able to understand commands We follow the family as the children grow, and as will happen, sexuality swells the narrative mix Complications ensue These are not exactly the nicest people, but Dunn offers nuanced portrayals of most of them We never really find out why Boston Brahmin Lily chooses the low road, but we do see both the dark and the light sides of their children Or in the case of Arty, the bright side illuminating his dark side Oly is a sympathetic character and you will have little trouble appreciating her concerns, particularly when she is an adult Her role, though, is primarily as an observer Chick is like a wounded animal, who, despite his prodigious power, suffers as he feels the pain all around him The twins have the same problems other twins experience, on steroids There are a few outsiders who join the Fabulon, and offer a perspective other than Oly s The narrative follows two time lines The bulk is following the traveling Binewkis over a decade or so The smaller narrative is Oly as an adult, living in a boarding house in which her mother and her daughter, Miranda, a Tempest reference if ever there was one, resonant with the opening epigraph, taken from that play , reside In that stream Mary Malley Lick is a wealthy heiress who professes a desire to liberate young women from the burden of being attractive so they can make their way in the world on their merits Of course, the very large and not very attractive Ms Lick may be using her great wealth to take beauty away from those who have it, in a form of one percenter jealousy Oly takes an interest in her when Lick targets Miranda.The tales of love, greed, power, envy, powerlessness and rage seem the stuff of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, particularly those centering around Arty Hubris, abuse of power, fate and comeuppance are most definitely on display There are really two primary preoccupations of mine involved in this book One of course is this concept of the cult, and the how come of that And the other was the long debate of nature vs nurture So those two things linked and seemed to be in an odd way part and parcel of each other, I guess We are asked to look at questions about the definition of normalcy Most of the time in literature the freaks want to be like everyone else Here the norms seem to pine for freakishness Dunn offers a fascinating comparison between the oddness of the Arturists and what society considers appropriate It s interesting that when these individuals choose and it is their choice always to endure voluntary amputation 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 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 At what point does cultishness, do the needs of the pack, become the norm In addition to the startling tale of the Binewskis, Dunn demonstrates a particularly powerful and poetic command of language Here is a small sample The sky above Molalla was aching blue but I walked from Arty s tent to our van in the same air I d sucked all my life It was a Binewski blend of lube, grease, dust, popcorn, and hot sugar We made that air and we carried it with us The Fabulon s light was the same in Arkansas as in Idaho the patented electric dance step of the Binewskis We made it Like the mucoid nubbin that spins a shell called oyster, we Binewskis wove a midway shelter called carnival There is plentywhere that came from There is also serious structural craft on display, as Dunn, in this modern fable, wields parallelism deftly, particularly as applied to how people are formed and changed, and the diverse motivations, self and external, involved in the formation of who we are and what we are capable of, for good andill There is a particularly poignant look at innocence in childhood vs adulthood Appropriately for a book that concerns freakishness, Geek Love is notable for its packaging Quick, name five books that are renowned for their covers Right Dead air, that s what I thought Ok, Ok, Gatsby, and we all have personal favorites, but how many are really different, and universally regarded as groundbreaking The Knopf wolfhound on the bound edge of the original hard cover printing somehow sports five instead of the usual four limbs And the letters used in the cover title are all mutations It was considered pretty daring cover art for the time One of the inspirations for the story took place in Portland, Oregon The International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park is home to a wide variety of rose variations Dunn wondered how it might play out if people were applying genetic control to making people, not in some sort of Aryan quest for perfection, but in trying to design for different She was also inspired, if the word can be used here, by the awfulness of Jim Jones, and puts some of Jones s words into Arty s mouth Dunn is from Kansas, originally, but her family moved around a fair bit when she was a kid She has lived in several European countries, having her son in Ireland, but lives in Portland now, where she has become a renowned writer on boxing.As for film plans for Geek Love, rights have been sold and sold again, but now reside permanently with Warner Brothers, who may or may not ever get around to producing it Geek Love has been continuously in print since its 1989 release In fact she earnedmoney from it in the last year than she ever had before The author was given a contract for a second novel, for a sum well into six figures But the book has yet to appear Perhaps it is in a glass jar somewhere.You don t have to be a teenager or twenty something to appreciate the pull of Geek Love It is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read, and I am well on my way to geezerhood Reading Geek Love may not alter your DNA, give you unusual physical characteristics or make sleeping under the kitchen sink seem appealing But it will definitely alter your view of what is possible in literature, will make you think about some core subjects in ways that might not have occurred before and will make you perk up whenever you spot one orof the many references to it that pop up in our culture from time to time, like a travelling carnival It may be too out there for some readers, but I suggest that if it feels that way to you, take an excursion and go out there to see this amazing show It is one of the best freakin books ever Review posted 12 5 14Publication date 1989 EXTRA STUFFDunn s FB page is maintained by Knopf not by DunnThere are many clips on Youtube to the 1932 movie Freaks When a character in GL is proclaimed One of Us it is a reference to the filmThe A.V Club interview Dunn quotes are taken from hereLitreactor.com piece on Dunn, with a bit of interview What The Hell Ever Happened To Katherine Dunn by Joshua ChaplinskyAn excellent piece in Wired.Com Geek Love at 25 How a Freak Family Inspired Your Pop Culture Heroes A reading group guide from the Book Report Network Whenever you read a good book, it s like the author is right there, in the room, talking to you, which is why I don t like to read good books Jack HandeyThis is one of the only books I plan never to finish I thought the writing was beautiful, and I don t even know that I would say it was badly edited a comment I read in another review , but I hated all of the characters I loathed them by the time I stopped reading I even hated Chick a little bit I skipped some and glanced at the end to Whenever you read a good book, it s like the author is right there, in the room, talking to you, which is why I don t like to read good books Jack HandeyThis is one of the only books I plan never to finish I thought the writing was beautiful, and I don t even know that I would say it was badly edited a comment I read in another review , but I hated all of the characters I loathed them by the time I stopped reading I even hated Chick a little bit I skipped some and glanced at the end to see if it would be worth finishing, but I couldn t get too excited about anything I saw If anyone has a good reason for me to finish this book, I would be interested to hear it I was recommended to read it by two very different people the prom queen my Senior year of high school, and a friend of mine who was later locked up in a high security mental ward in Seattle Made me want to give it a try, you know I don t know if I ve ever hated so many characters in a book as though they were my personal enemies This book sat inside my nightstand for a couple of months, and then I just couldn t stand having it there any , knowing it might be sneaking out and watching me while I slept I took it to the library and handed it to one of the customer service people, asking him if I could give it to the library I didn t want to sell it to a used book store and then have someone make the mistake I made of actually spending money on it and I couldn t throw it away because I do think it s well written, so I had to give itrespect than that The man tried to scan it for about thirty seconds as though I was returning it No, I explained, I m not returning it I just want to give it to the library, if that s okay Oh, he said, looking at his computer screen and not giving any other response I walked away quickly, just in case he was planning to tell me I couldn t leave the book He s the librarian here at the Eugene Public library with the handlebar mustache, and the greying hair with a bowl cut, who looks like he s part basset hound That s a pretty irrelevant story, but why are you still reading this that s what Katherine Dunn said