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Geek Love

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  33,447 ratings  ·  3,833 reviews
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 O...more
Paperback, 348 pages
Published June 11th 2002 by Random House Vintage (first published March 11th 1989)
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The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternWater for Elephants by Sara GruenGeek Love by Katherine DunnSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray BradburyThe Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
Circus/Carnival Books
3rd out of 229 books — 566 voters
American Psycho by Bret Easton EllisLord of the Flies by William GoldingA Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer1984 by George OrwellA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Most Disturbing Book Ever Written
61st out of 1,376 books — 5,165 voters

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Community Reviews

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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 a more profound 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...more
Oct 21, 2012 Sparrow rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: loonies
Recommended to Sparrow by: Lokailani Alabanza and Matt Leisy
"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 Handey

This 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...more

On the surface, Geek Love has it all: jealousy, betrayal, sexual objectification, and murderous revenge. It’s got a whole shitload of family drama topped off with a generous helping of physical deformities and possibly, possibly, a side of incest. (That part’s not too clear, though.) The problem is, once you get past the shock value of wanting to fuck your brother who also happens to look like a giant fish, there really isn’t much going on here.

Right before starting this book, I read Middle...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Book Circle Reads 26

Close to the top of any literature lover's life list of lovely books.

Well, now, upon more than a decade's passing, I can't say I agree with myself here.

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Book Description: Geek Loveis 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 wort...more
Nov 22, 2007 James rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Not the weak of heart
This book was as good as I heard it would and better. I love weird characters and twisted plot lines, but this went so far that it made me very uncomfortable. And I love the book for that.

The plot is simple and sick enough: Al and Lil Binewski, a young couple madly in love and struggling to save Al's family business, a traveling carnival fabulon, devise a plan to keep themselves from going under. Al, with Lil's eager permission, exposes his wife to radiation, presciptions, and whatever else may...more
If the world is a carnival, then we were all born to be its freaks. After all, when each of us arrived on the scene, naked and covered in blood and goo, we were unique specimens. But soon after our births, a member of The Cult of Normalcy gave us a pamphlet and offered us the opportunity to blend in with the rest of society. Most of us accepted the offer. Loneliness is a scary thing, after all. So here we are trying to live our lives like everyone else, constantly checking the mirror to make sur...more
4 ½ stars

Any book that was written in the early ‘80’s and is still worth reading today, is almost by definition, a semi-classic; though cult-horror classic might be closer to the mark for Geek Love. That’s right: this is not your run-of-the-mill beach novel. I will not be placing this book on my list of Best Ten Novels of the 20th Century; but I’m sure there are others who will, and I have no basic argument with them. Geek Love is bizarre, but only on the surface. Fundamentally, this is a solid...more
This book is complex, creative, and mind-boggling. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the book is trying to grapple with what it's trying to describe into something you can visualize. It's not that Katherine Dunn doesn't do a fine job describing her's just that the imagery is so complex and vivid that it takes a lot out of the brain to envision for oneself.

This book is about the outsider making the insider feel bad because the insider doesn't fit with the outsiders. This book is...more
I had Geek Love sitting on my shelf for three years. I got it on May 30th of 2010 when the library of the university I've been attending was having a clearance. This book was among the pile I took home with me. It still had its library card attached, and from it I discovered that it was donated to the library on 23/04/1996 and that the last time anyone checked it out was on 25/04/2001. I could understand the library casting it slept on the shelf for nine years, but it wouldn't stop me from givin...more
Mme. Bookling ~
Aug 22, 2007 Mme. Bookling ~ rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Palanuik fans
What is with Portland? Oregon brews these freakish, fantastical authors - fascinated with the off color beauty of the grotesque. Not to say that both Palahniuk and Dunn are not genius's, but it's weird man. Weirdly coincidental.

So anyway, Geek Love is about this family of carnies (carnival workers - to the less colloquially gifted) that decides to chemically engineer their children. The wife takes arsenic and radioisotopes while pregnant, and the result is a family of freaks. One has fins, one i...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sometimes the universe just wants you to read a book. A few months ago, Wired Magazine ran a feature on Geek Love at 25, an anniversary reflection of sorts. I'm not sure if that is why my book-club cohort picked the book or if it was just in the air for another reason, but not long after, it became the official pick for May.

The article points out that this was an important book cover design for Chip Kidd, who went on to become the best known book cover designer of recent times.

I'd seen this bo...more
i hated this book and i try not to be offended that so many people i know liked it. basically it was too insanely triggering to me to get any enjoyment out of it whatsoever. i generally don't really enjoy people using metaphors taken from other people's experiences, and this happens a lot around amputation. since amputation is something i have actually experienced, and has impacted my life in ways i can still only begin to understand or describe, there is nowhere for me to go with a book like th...more
Like a collaboration between John Irving and David Lynch, this audaciously conceived, sometimes shocking tale of love and hubris in a carnival family exerts the same mesmeric fascination as the freaks it depicts, despite essential structural flaws. In language as original and fantastic as her story, Dunn (Attic, 1970; Truck, 1971) tells the tale of Binewski's Carnival Fabulon, an unremarkable traveling show until patriarch Aloysius decides to breed his own freaks. Using drugs, insecticides and r...more
Barks & Bites
Jun 22, 2010 Barks & Bites rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: horror fans
Shelves: horror, favorites
I just realized I never added my favorite book of all time to my GR shelf. Don't expect a review though because my memory for details is shit. Only major plot spoilers stick in my head. I've read it twice and will read it again and review it then. You should read it. That's all I'm saying.
This book tugged at every emotion I have. Laughter and tears were in the lead during most of the book, but in the end frustration won. I was so frustrated with how amazing this book could have been. It was on the verge of greatness and fell short. While frustration did win in the long run, I must admit immediately after reading the last page, I curled up in a ball and sobbed, wondering how I could go on in life after what happened to these people that don't exist. It took me a couple of days to...more
Barry Pierce
If David Lynch wrote a novel, this would be it. This novel is repugnant, disgusting, and baffling. I loved it. Who'd have thought that a book narrated by a bald female hunchbacked albino dwarf would be so beautiful? The trials and tribulations of the Binewski family are shocking and sickening but yet you feel a strange attraction to this family of freaks. This is one of the most original novels I've ever read, I will never come across anything like this ever again. Reading "Geek Love" is an expe...more
El Sekine
This book isn't about the blossoming romance between two hapless nerds. "Geek" refers to a circus person who rips into live chickens with their bare teeth, killing them by snapping the chickens' necks. It's a good book.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A mother and father whom intentionally poison their fetuses so the children can have starring roles in their traveling circus when they're born. An Aqua Boy with a Nietszchean philosophical cant who nominates himself the Jones-esque leader of a cult based on bodily mutilation. Siamese twins who sing and play the piano. An almost wordless yet astoundingly kind younger brother whose mind can manipulate the physical world.

These are the Binewskis, and though Geek Love may not be my favorite book (t...more
I read this one in 2011, but I decided to do a late review because this was one of the more memorable books I read last year and I think more people should read this.

Geek Love is not about, well, what you might think of as geeks (nerds) falling in love. This is the original definition of geek, which refers to the people in the circus who, as a side show, would bite heads off of chickens and send their headless bodies running (yes I know doesn't sound like a fun show.) However the book is still n...more
Okay, first you've GOT to be okay with ugliness. I qualify. Second, for better or worse you maybe have to crave sensation. This book is all newness and surprise. There's nothing expected about the story, and that happens too rarely for me not to be grateful. Finally, I'd argue that the book is good literature. I personally don't agree that Dunn's writing is haphazard or needs editing -- her prose whined through my nerves, her images moving constantly before my eyes.

All in all, I think this book...more
Lori Whitwam

In some ways, I want to erase all trace of this book from my brain, but in other ways it is something I must carry with me forever.

I'm a long way from being able to thoroughly review Geek Love. It's the kind of book that you have to process for days, weeks, months, before you know how you feel about it (and I know I will do just that).

The Freaks are undoubtedly freak-like. Yet almost too painfully human. The things they do, the way they live, while initially appalling, soon make perfect sens...more
Feb 12, 2008 Annalisa rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like strange and unusual
Recommended to Annalisa by: some guy I don't know
Recommended to me as a more carnival twisted story than Water for Elephants, it is the story of a couple who breeds freak children for the sake of their carnival show. In their twisted minds, it is done with love because deformities make you special, and marketable.

The characters are unusual, interesting, and well-written so initially I was drawn in, but about midway through the story was so way out there, I grew bored of it, annoyed with the distraction of minor characters I kept getting mixed...more
I wanted to give this more stars but that fact that is was so foul and some parts were really I almost want to say, trashy? Not dignified, that is for sure. the ending was abrupt (to both the family story and Oly's personal story) which was disappointing because the whole book lead up to these climatic endings (duh).


This is the most disgusting book I've ever encountered. EVER. I was eating lunch today while reading it, and I had to put it down because it made me sick to my stomach.
But it...more
This is a book about a traveling carnival family that, mainly through the use of altering chemicals administered during pregnancy, deliberately breeds its own family of sideshow freaks--including a flippered aqua-boy, singing Siamese twins, and a hunchbacked albino dwarf. It is also a book about the perception of normalcy and beauty, and about the joys and sorrows of living as an outcast from the world at large.

By all rights I should have loved this book, but I only really liked it. Dunn's conce...more
There may be stranger books out there about the circus (though of this I can't be sure), but I am certain that there are no stranger books out there about families, because there simply can't be a family stranger than the Binewskis. Carnies, freaks, experiments, mad scientists, brothers, sisters, lovers, foes, gifted, damaged, obsessed...they are the ultimate bizarre and this book was impossible to put down precisely due to its mesmerizing strangeness. I'm a huge fan of any circus related storie...more
It's been 10 years since I've read this book and it's definitely due for a re-read. Still, it stuck with me this long which is saying a lot. Through a rather peculiar tale about an orchestrated family of circus freaks, Dunn considers social norms, perceptions of beauty and the real source of freedom. The book broaches many taboos and there is a bit of a violent undertone in the sense that characters' paths are often determined by the actions of others, but none of it is gratuitous in my opinion....more
Anna  (Bananas!)
Cautiously starting this in March. Are any of my GR friends interested in a buddy read? There's carny craziness awaiting you.
I had this book for 8 years and started it 4 times making it to varying points in the book each time. The last time I picked it up a few months ago now I finally made it though and glad-fully so. This is an extremely rewarding book whose characters you grow to fall in love with, feel pain for, and feel frustration for like they have become a part of your own family. I was very moved by this story. I found myself hoping that the characters would make the decisions I would tell them to make, hopin...more
Nov 21, 2008 Yulia marked it as left-unfinished
Don't be misled by the font of the title on the cover. This book has nothing to do with computer techies in love, navigating the hazards of kissing with two sets of glasses and braces to avoid. The actual and original geek in reference is the kind who bites the heads off of chickens for rewards and general entertainment and disgust, often at carnivals and freak shows. I have a general phobia of carnivals and freak shows, however, so when I figured out where this book was leading, I wanted to run...more
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Will she write another novel? 2 54 Dec 01, 2013 11:30AM  
The WTF? Book Club: Geek Love - Katherine Dunn (June Book Selection) 6 76 Jun 22, 2013 06:32AM  
  • Cruddy
  • The Final Confession of Mabel Stark
  • The Circus in Winter
  • The Pilo Family Circus
  • Selected Essays from: How to be Alone
  • Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls
  • The Circus of the Earth and the Air
  • Almanac of the Dead
  • Clown Girl
  • The Passion
  • Bad Behavior
  • Kiss Me, Judas
  • The Contortionist's Handbook
  • The Circus Book: 1870–1950
  • And the Ass Saw the Angel
  • Nights at the Circus
  • Stranger Things Happen
  • Alphabetical Africa
Katherine Dunn is best known for her beloved novel "Geek Love," which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989. She is also the author of the novels "Attic" (1970) and "Truck" (1971). A fourth novel, entitled "The Cut Man," has been in-progress for decades and is finally scheduled for a September 2008 release.

Dunn is also known as a prolific sports journalist in the field of boxing, and...more
More about Katherine Dunn...
Truck Attic One Ring Circus: Dispatches from the World of Boxing Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook Why Do Men Have Nipples? and Other Low-Life Answers to Real-Life Questions

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“The truth is always an insult or a joke, lies are generally tastier. We love them. The nature of lies is to please. Truth has no concern for anyone's comfort” 255 likes
“Can you be happy with the movies, and the ads, and the clothes in the stores, and the doctors, and the eyes as you walk down the street all telling you there is something wrong with you? No. You cannot be happy. Because, you poor darling baby, you believe them.” 110 likes
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