Howard's Reviews > Geek Love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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Mar 03, 08

bookshelves: books-i-reviewed-for-kirkus
Read in January, 1989

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 radioactivity, Al and his wife Crystal Lil, sometime geek, produce Arturo, a thalidomide child; Elly and Iphy, beautiful Siamese twins; Olympia, the novel's narrator, an albino hunchbacked dwarf trained as a barker; and the outwardly normal but telekinetic Chick. With overtones of classical tragedy, Olympia relates Arturo's growing power: first over his sisters, who vie for his love, then over the entire show, and finally over the many followers of the cult of "Arturism," who, like their prophet, have pieces of themselves amputated to transcend appearance. (Arms and legs become lion food; hands and feet, fodder for "transcendental maggots," ironic souveniors of Arturo.) Arturo's pride and jealousy combine with the arrival of a failed assassin, now a freak himself, and with the twins' sideline of selling "norms" unique sex, to bring the show to a flaming end. Although the framing story - years later, Olympia schemes to save Miranda, her daughter by Arturo, from a perverse philanthropist - is poorly integrated, and the novel sometimes judders along, this is captivatingly original stuff. With wit and poetry, Dunn redefines the limits of the acceptable.


(My editor made me change the last line from "pushes the envelope of acceptability," because she was unfamiliar with the expression, which was ridiculous at the time, because The Right Stuff had been out for a while by then, but I think now it would seem dated, so she was ultimately right.)
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