Joey's Reviews > Geek Love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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Jul 30, 2007

really liked it
Read in July, 2007

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 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 cliché 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 seem more sophisticated, 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.
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Reading Progress

02/02/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by Melissa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Melissa Hurry up and finish this one already!!


message 2: by Colleen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Colleen Thorndike So, I agree. Although I think she also wanted to parallel Miss Lick's attempt at Arturism with the real thing... which just ended up being too much.
And the ending is really problematic for me. The whole article and the letter, ugh. If I read one more book in which the main character writes a letter to their offspring....
I also wish I could draw more parallels between this and The Tempest, since Oly names Miranda after it... but there's not much... Miss Lick could maybe be construed as a Caliban, but it's not a very strong link...


message 3: by Joey (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joey Isn't the epigram from The Tempest? Am I making that up?

I think she clearly wants to draw a paralell between Miss Lick's surgeries and Arturism; Miss Lick even mentions Arturism. I guess Miss Lick's brand of mutilation is more benificent than Arty's, but that's another problem I have with the book. Oly claims to see the benevolence in Miss Lick's fetish, but I don't. She has seemingly good intentions, but I don't think even she realizes that what she really wants is to get off on fucking people up, just like Arty. She preys on their weaknesses (money) like Arty preys on other weaknesses. I hated her because of that, and it made me think less of Oly because she bought into it. Also, why didn't Oly just tell Miss Lick that Miranda was her daughter and to leave her alone? And if Oly really bought into Miss Lick's shtick, why didn't she come around to agreeing about the goddamn tail anyway? She even calls Miranda a slut a few times.

This is a small thing, but it bothered me. Is it feasible to sew up someone's vagina without giving them a full hysterectomy? I thought when I read that passage that it may have been the flaw you were referring to. Ha.



message 4: by Melissa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Melissa "This is a small thing, but it bothered me. Is it feasible to sew up someone's vagina without giving them a full hysterectomy? I thought when I read that passage that it may have been the flaw you were referring to. Ha. "

Okay, so I'm not feeling smart enough or familiar enough with the book since I read it for the second time about 2 years ago to comment on your review, which was beautifully written of course. BUT, I will comment on the above question: depends on how tight you make the stitches and whether or not you're only worrying about keeping stuff out... the stuff that comes out doesn't need much "space" to get out, if you know what I mean.


message 5: by Joey (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joey I guess you're right. It doesn't strike me as the healthiest thing to do to your giner, though.

I know it seems like I'm bitching about it more than I'm praising it, but I really did like this book.


Lauryl Joey wrote: "Isn't the epigram from The Tempest? Am I making that up?

I think she clearly wants to draw a paralell between Miss Lick's surgeries and Arturism; Miss Lick even mentions Arturism. I guess Miss..."


Actually, girls in Africa who go through ritual genital mutilation (so-called "female circumcision") often have their labia sewn mostly shut, with just enough room to let urine and menstrual blood pass. I was just reading about it. It's terrible, and lots of girls die of infection because of it.

A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure whereby the uterus is removed. A hysterectomy has nothing at all to do with the vagina.




Sabrina Chapadjiev dude- you're dead on. I wanted to edit it while reading it! Also- did this strike anyone - I don't quite get why Ms. Lick would want to take off Miranda's tail if her main goal was to make beautiful girls into weird-os. . .I felt that was a bit glossed over. But yeah- man, you hit the nail on the head with this one- except that I think the flaws in the over-writing and poor editing make it a three star book.


Jenine I know! I was left scratching my head about that one. The only conclusion I could come up with was Ms. Lick was making beautiful girls deformed so they could focus on their talents in life. Miranda's beauty was her tail, by lopping it off she would stop stripping and focus on her drawings.

Sabrina wrote: "dude- you're dead on. I wanted to edit it while reading it! Also- did this strike anyone - I don't quite get why Ms. Lick would want to take off Miranda's tail if her main goal was to make beauti..."


Jenine I agree wholeheartedly with your review, particularly the part about chick's inferno being way too short. I had to go back and re-read that section when I was done with the book. The way it was written made it seem like a minor event rather than the end of the family and circus as we knew it.


message 10: by Leah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leah Agreed agreed agreed. I listened to this one on CD so at first I thought the reader herself was being overindulgent and then realized it was the writing. Spot on with this review.


message 11: by Erin (new) - rated it 3 stars

Erin Shull Wow, your review is exactly how I felt about this book. Spot on!


message 12: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Totally agree about the now-adult Oly angle; it did seem added on. Pasted on - or something. And yes, overall editing would have been nice.


Dunia Sorry to be "that"girl, but schizophrenia does not involve split personalities....you're thinking of Multiple Personality Disorder which is now classified as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)...


Bobby Bermea This review is almost my exact experience of this book. Though I have to say that "pretty damn good" is still pretty damn good.


Melissa I agree with you, especially about the inferno scene being too sparse. I was reading on a kindle and kept hitting the back and forward screen thinking that I must certainly be missing something. I don't think I ever thought of the father as a "model" father, but this go-around I was disgusted by Lil and Al and Arty the entire book. In fact, I was pretty mad at everyone in the whole book, except Miranda.


Susan Great review! I actually liked the intertwining story with Miss Lick because we got to see Oly have the one thing she never had, a friend, and how her relationally-challenged past leads her to act within that friendship.


message 18: by Autumn (new)

Autumn Aurelia "A schizophrenic reaction" - Highly inappropriate, unless of course you do actually suffer from schizophrenia. I mean, what even?


Sally Hi, Susan. I also enjoyed reading about the relationship between Oly and Miss Lick, and for those same reasons. Oly had been the least "special" of her siblings, so that formerly her value was only in being an aid to their specialness. With Miss Lick, Oly is special for being Oly.


message 20: by Jay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jay Runyan I could not agree more about the description of the climaxof the book. I was really looking forward to what happened to the rest of the family and then. poof!, it was just over...wth?


message 21: by lisaraptor (new)

lisaraptor Thanks @ Sami Clara


message 22: by Delphine (new)

Delphine Goh "The book holds its dark thrall not by describing the physical deformities embodied by the characters but by forcing that unflinching view inward" i couldn't agree more


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