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Geek Love

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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 ― asset.

As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., 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.

348 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1989

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About the author

Katherine Dunn

22 books1,157 followers
Katherine Dunn was a novelist and boxing journalist who lived and worked in Oregon. She is the author of the three novels: Attic; Truck; and Geek Love. This, her most well-known work, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Prize for horror fiction. She also authored the essay collection One Ring Circus. She died in 2016.

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Profile Image for Joey.
Author 3 books47 followers
April 3, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
January 5, 2023
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 plenty more where 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 and ill. 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 earned more money 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 or more of 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 first posted – 12/5/14

Publication date – 1989

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Dunn’s FB page is maintained by Knopf not by Dunn

There 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 film

The A.V. Club interview – Dunn quotes are taken from here

Litreactor.com piece on Dunn, with a bit of interview - What The Hell Ever Happened To... Katherine Dunn? – by Joshua Chaplinsky

An 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
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
769 reviews3,502 followers
February 13, 2022
The circus of life can be a terrifying horror freakshow too

This on one of the greatest, weirdest, and definitively not for the faint of hearth novels with so many passages I still remember years after reading it, which is always a very good sign that the stuff was good and of high quality,

Sophisticated slasher fun
I would put it in a line with similar literature one-hit wonders, a work so full of innuendos, dark humor, and shocking passages that it should take its place in modern world literature. But it may still take time until full-aged readers can enjoy works like that, because both the explicitness and the philosophical sharpness on society in the monologues are not easy to digest and for many, it will be simply too sad and bloody. So if you can´t handle blood, perversion, and sick deviancy, stay away from this book. All others (is it right to say that in this context?) should have much fun.

Torsoing to Elysium
Quite a drastic allegory to faith, self flagellation, and escalating absolution methods, one of the main plotlines is freaking hardcore. I wonder how many readers will be disgusted by this and stop reading… Although the idea of manifesting the willingness to sacrifice in such a form is maybe one of the best medicines to cure extremists and a welcomed trope in darker cyberpunk and cosmic horror sci fi subgenres too.

Nobody would publish this thing nowadays
It´s one of those novels that took a unique idea and polished it until perfection, not one of the nowadays a novel a year mainstream stuff focused on agreeableness with as many readers as possible, but true literature with much of the authors´ self included and giving a penetration about how politically correct or disturbing it will finally be.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,216 followers
October 22, 2012
"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 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 more, 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 it more respect 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)
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,281 followers
January 29, 2015

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 Middlesex. The similarities in theme (except for the bit about the giant fish) are uncanny: there’s incest, sexual objectification, and also a shitload of family drama. The difference is, Middlesex is an engaging novel while Geek Love, on the other hand, falls sadly flat. Besides the fact that I’m not usually keen on weakling protagonists—Oly is a patsy who gets pushed around her entire life by her older brother whom, for some reason, she never stands up to—I was actually more disturbed by the whole Miss Lick situation. I believe she’s supposed to be like a second coming of Dr. Phyllis, disfiguring her clients as a means of helping them achieve enlightenment, yet for some strange reason she wants to remove Miranda’s tail? I don’t get it. You’d think she’d want to make it bigger or help her grow a second one or something. The premise of this just doesn’t seem very well thought out to me.

Chick is the one thing I did love about this book, though, and Geek Love could have used a lot of more of him. But as for the rest of the Binewskis, I could take ’em or leave ’em. I mean they might be marginally interesting, but not enough for me to care what ends up happening to them. So by the time whatever happens to them, um, happens, I had pretty much lost interest.

The Binewski Family
The Binewski Family.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,124 reviews1,625 followers
February 23, 2023

Le immagini vengono dal bel film di Gabriele Mainetti “Freaks Out”.

Ho trovato le parole che seguono, scritte da Tommaso Pincio pochi giorni dopo la morte di Katherine Dunn(11 maggio) - che Pincio aveva conosciuto – semplici e illuminanti al contempo. Mi piace riportarle integralmente:

È quasi una legge di natura. In America, chiunque voglia rifarsi una vita si mette in viaggio verso ovest, verso l’Oceano Pacifico. La mèta ideale è la California, notoria patria di scoppiati. Ma se non si hanno abbastanza soldi per stabilirsi a Los Angeles o San Francisco, l’alternativa più economica è Portland, nell’Oregon, un bel po’ più a nord lungo la costa. È per questo che abbiamo fra noi i più scoppiati fra gli scoppiati. La crema dei disadattati, spiega Katherine Dunn. Non facciamo che accumulare gente strana. Qui a Portland siamo tutti profughi e fuggiaschi. Anche lei lo è. La sua era una tipica famiglia di proletari americani con il prurito ai piedi, che si spostava da una fattoria all’altra in cerca di lavori stagionali. Katherine è nata nel Kansas, ha viaggiato in lungo e in largo per gli Stati Uniti, alla fine si è fermata coi suoi a Portland, dove ha frequentato le scuole superiori e l’università. Aveva un bel caratterino. Voleva diventare scrittrice e ha vinto una borsa di studio per dedicarsi il suo primo romanzo. Le piaceva la boxe ed è diventata la prima giornalista donna esperta in questo sport per uomini. Ma prima di ciò è dovuta passare attraverso una lunga serie di esperienze piuttosto diversificate: cameriera, conduttrice radiofonica, decoratrice e truffatrice. Sì, anche truffatrice, perché a un certo punto, trovatasi a corto di soldi, non trovò di meglio da fare che staccare un assegno a vuoto. Tanta leggerezza le valse un soggiorno premio di un paio di settimane nelle patrie galere di Leavenworth, nel Kansas. Lo ricorda come un punto di svolta nella sua vita. Seppe ricavarne infatti qualcosa di buono, poiché proprio l’esperienza carceraria è alla base del suo libro d’esordio.

Il romanzo che le ha regalato il successo è però scaturito da un’esperienza decisamente più idilliaca, passeggiando in un giardino di rose. Ce n’erano di tutti i tipi e tutte bellissime, alcune erano davvero bizzarre in quanto frutto di innesti e incroci. Mi fecero tornare in mente un mio interesse di sempre, la biologia e le manipolazioni genetiche. Considerai che tra non molto saremmo stati in grado di progettare bambini alla stessa maniera delle rose. Mi venne l’idea per un romanzo e corsi a casa per scriverlo. Il romanzo è Geek Love. Uscito nel 1989, fu finalista del più prestigioso premio letterario americano, il National Book Award, e divenne un classico per un’intera generazione di scrittori, quella dei nostri tempi. Katherine Dunn è la madre infatti putativa di Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Dave Egger, Alice Sebold e soprattutto di Chuck Palahniuk, altro cantore degli squinternati dell’Oregon, che le ha dedicato un vivido e appassionato ritratto in Portland Souvenir, guida indispensabile per chiunque voglia conoscere questa città di stranezze. A distanza di quasi vent’anni Geek Love non è mai andato fuori catalogo, sempre ristampato ha finora venduto oltre seicentomila copie, una cifra più che ragguardevole considerato che stiamo parlando di un libro poco adatto ai deboli di stomaco. Non a caso i diritti per la trasposizione cinematografica furono a suo tempo acquistati da Tim Burton e Terry Gilliam. Quindi passarono nelle mani di Johnny Depp. Sebbene sia nata in un orto botanico, Geek Love non è una storia rose e fiori. A raccontarla in prima persona è Olympia Binewski, una nana pelata, albina e, per giunta, con la gobba. Il suo singolare aspetto non è frutto di uno sbaglio di natura, bensì una deviazione scientemente pianificata a tavolino.

I bambini di casa Binewski, chi più chi meno, hanno tutti qualche difettuccio che li rende assai particolari. Il fatto è che i loro genitori, essendo proprietari di un circo itinerante, il Favoloso Parco delle Attrazioni Binewski, hanno avuto la bella pensata di garantire alla prole un lavoro sicuro. Il sistema, ingegnoso quanto discutibile, è semplice: mettere in piedi una sorta di vivaio di mostri. Ogni qualvolta mamma Binewski si ritrova in dolce attesa comincia a ingurgitare schifezze di vario genere: pillole, veleno per topi, insetticidi e qualunque altra cosa possa favorire una bella malformazione alla creatura che porta in grembo. Se il bambino nasce morto, poco male. Lo si potrà sempre conservare sotto spirito in un barattolo di vetro da mostrare ai visitatori. Quelli che sopravvivono potranno invece lavorare nel circo tutta la vita. Quale miglior regalo si può fare ai propri figli se non la capacità di guadagnarsi da vivere limitandosi a essere se stessi? Ovviamente, il motto di casa Bineswki non poteva che essere: Veri mostri non si diventa, si nasce. E loro, i mostri, non si sentono per nulla handicappati. Anzi. Essere freak lo vedono come un dono, una benedizione. Badate, però: con il suo mirabolante romanzo, Katherine Dunn non ha inteso impressionarci né disgustarci, ha cercato soltanto di farci vedere la normalità da un altro punto di vista. Qualcuno ha detto che l’horror non è genere letterario, ma un’emozione, ed è proprio in questi termini che Geek Love può essere definito una storia horror. I suoi protagonisti non sono semplicemente intrappolati nelle loro deformità fisica, ma presi in un gioco al contempo felice e infernale, un gioco che tutti noi ben conosciamo: la morbosa e soffocante geometria degli affetti famigliari. Succede allora che l’orrore iniziale si trasforma in una comicità al contempo macabra e commovente che fa da guscio a un’inquietante possibilità. Che siano forse i sentimenti i veri mostri?

Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
540 reviews7,240 followers
August 31, 2014
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 experience that I highly recommend to everyone, living or dead. You'll feel sick with awe.
Profile Image for James.
132 reviews15 followers
November 22, 2007
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 affect her pregnancies in unforeseen ways. The result is a line of children who are so strange that the the traveling carnival now has its main attraction, a bloodline as part of one of the most bizarre freak shows of all time.

I don't want to say any more about the book then that, but its really amazing. Expect to be disgusted, expect to be appalled, expect one of the most despicable antagonists in literary history, and expect one of the most repulsively loveable protagonists ever envisioned. This is a brutal and horrific book that also succeeds to be hysterical and heartbreaking, not to mention incredibly human, and that may be the most uncomfortable part of all: How these freaks of nature succeed so well at reflecting the inner-side of emotion, which is more human than one could ever hope their physical appearance can be. In short, expect to see yourself in and everyone you know in one character or another. There is a little bit of Chick and Arty in all of us.

This book is incredible.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,415 reviews7,430 followers
January 5, 2017
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

It's a snow day today and since my tiny humans are to the point where my snow days are numbered since they aren't so tiny any longer I decided to stay home with them in order to read porn make cookies and hot cocoa and scream loving things out the front door like "IT'S 10 DEGRESS OUTSIDE - GET YOUR ASSES BACK IN HERE BEFORE YOU FREEZE TO DEATH!" But then I realized this book would be expiring from my Kindle in like a minute and a half so I figured I better morph my plan and get a "review" churned out right quick.

To be honest, I don't really know what to say. Geek Love has been on my TBR since 2012. I'm fairly certain I even checked it out from the library at one point and returned it without reading. When Ron 2.0 was trying to bait all us creeps with his Last Days updates someone mentioned Geek Love and since I'm an asshole I went with that one rather than Ron's choice.

Enough with the backstory, right? You probably want to know about the book. Well, it goes a little something like this . . . . .

"Tell about the time when Mama was the geek!"

Y'all know what a geek is, right?

Well, yeah, but this one isn't about the kind of geek McDreamy was before he got dreamy. It's about this kind . . . .

That was Mama Lil. Lil had big dreams of being a trapeze girl, but an unfortunate accident proved that wasn't meant to be. Lil became the geek instead, catching the eye of Papa Al. With the help of some choice dope, a few insecticides and a handful of radioisotopes the two Binewskis created a very unique family . . . .

Geek Love is the story of family, of sibling rivalry, of sacrifice, of religion and a need for fame and glory. It definitely reminds us all to . . .

And featured a character that, even though it's the first week of the new year, I will remember forever. Oh little Boychick . . . .

I have never read anything like it and highly doubt I ever will. I don't know who to recommend this to because it is most assuredly not a story for everyone. But if you have a taste for the unusual and appreciate writing that isn't overdone or purple, but still makes an impact . . . .

"Do you know what the monsters and demons and rancid spirits are? Us, that's what. You and me. We are the things that come to the norms in nightmares. The thing that lurks in the bell tower and bites out the throats of the choirboys - that's you, Oly. And the thing in the closet that makes the babies scream in the dark before it sucks their last breath - that's me. And the rustling in the brush and the strange piping cries that chill the spine on a deserted road at twilight - that's the twins singing practice scales while they look for berries."

You should give it a go and become one of us . . . .

Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,865 reviews1,898 followers
March 11, 2021
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 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–asset. 

As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., 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.

My Review: Little Katie D's report card:
Idea: A+
Execution: C+
Nutritional Value: D-

While I, unlike some, adored The Night Circus in all its flawed glory, I thought this book was a bag of generic cheez puffs versus Morgenstern's home-made real-butter cheese straws.

I must be hungry....

But seriously, the reason I've given it so many stars is the sheer audacity of Katherine Dunn's imagination. I was gobsmacked by Oly's impregnation. I was stunned by the hubris of the horrible, horrible parents of these deformed and bizarre siblings. I saw in this book a spiritual ancestor to Swamplandia!, and I felt some of the same things about that book as I do about this one: Oooh, so close! It's sooo close to being extraordinary in a good, satisfying way. Unlike Swamplandia!, though, I think this book really does deserve the time and attention of serious fiction readers.

Yes, it does fail on some levels, but it's ambitious enough to make even that really interesting. Yes, it lacks some hard-to-define something, that one thing that makes an unbelievable premise feel right and inevitable, but instead it leaves the reader with a weird, uneasy new set of images imprinted on the brain.

But most of all, despite the ways it's not perfect, one thing it is, is fun. A fun-to-read failure is better for summer than a successful sob-fest, no?
67 reviews397 followers
September 6, 2016
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 sure we look like everyone else, and taking some time out of our day to laugh and gawk at those who have failed miserably at our collective endeavor. If what we see in the mirror doesn't reflect the rest of society, we do things to fix ourselves. It's exhausting work, trying to be like everyone else, but it's worth it because we're not alone and that makes us happy, right?

I love Geek Love for reminding me that I'm a freak. I am the only person who popped out of my mother's vagina on a certain Sunday in November of 1978 at 10:56 a.m. at a little Catholic hospital in suburban Maryland. No one other than me has my brain, my heart, and my penis and it is time I started using all three of them to the best of their individual abilities. (Sorry, ladies. I'm happily married.)

I'll finish with a great quote from the book:

There are those whose own vulgar normality is so apparent and stultifying that they strive to escape it. They affect flamboyant behavior and claim originality according to the fashionable eccentricities of their time. They claim brains or talent or indifference to mores in desperate attempts to deny their own mediocrity...

Then there are those who feel their own strangeness and are terrified by it. They struggle toward normalcy. They suffer to exactly that degree that they are unable to appear normal to others, or to convince themselves that their aberration does not exist. These are true freaks, who appear, almost always, conventional and dull.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,242 followers
July 31, 2016
Moderato. Lightly strummed guitar. Two backup singers who constantly refrain

Sweet sweet, the freaks that you gave to me
You can’t beat the geeks that you gave to me

A handsome tuxedo-wearing guy sings

Take one set of Siamese twins
Add a boy with only fins
No legs, no arms, he swims, he charms
Memories are made of this

Then add some pesticide
Just a sprinkle of infanticide
Incest and twin sex for the flavor
Should you be hard to please
Voluntary amputees
Will give you plenty to savor

Add a dwarfish hunchbacked girl
And a guy without a face
There’s a telekinetic boy
And a rich lady who likes to pay pretty girls to undergo operations to make them really ugly
Memories are made of this
Sweet sweet, the freaks that you gave to me
Memories are made of this
You can’t beat the geeks that you gave to me



The story is narrated by Oly, the hunchbacked albino dwarf. She says :

I realized that the peculiar look on people’s faces when they saw me was not envy or hatred, but could be translated into one simple question : “What the hell happened to you?” They needed to know so they could prevent it from happening to them.

My answer was simple, too : “My father and mother designed me this way. They achieved greater originality in some of their other projects."

So, if you read the blurb you will know that this is the story of a family of freaks who run a freak show in their own carnival, which constantly tours the small towns of the South and Midwest. And it’s a beloved cult novel, which I had only vaguely heard of until recently. It was one of those “why haven’t I already read this?” moments. And now I have. Phew, it felt really long, and at the end, I couldn’t wait to be done with it. It’s uneasy reading when you utterly despise the sniveling wretched narrator in whose brain you live throughout. And also you find the author likes to describe the simplest things in oblique prose. And also the most complicated things in oblique prose. And also I felt jerked around more than somewhat. I will explain.

This novel is has a couple of Real Big Themes. Like in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the theme is slavery. Or in the novels of Martin Amis the theme is Martin Amis’ fabulous intelligence. Here it’s kind of two intertwined ideas.

Arty the Aqua Boy :

We have this advantage, that the norms expect us to be wise. Even a rat’s-ass dwarf jester got credit for terrible canniness disguised as tomfoolery. Freaks are like owls, mythed into blinking, bloodless objectivity. The norms figure our contact with their brand of life is shaky. They see us as cut off from temptation and pettiness. Even our hate is grand by their feeble lights. And the more deformed we are, the higher our supposed sanctity.

So Arty gradually starts a cult. The hicks who patronize the freak show begin to see him as a guru. He preaches a message of P.I.P. : Peace, Isolation, Purity. The idea is for people to be like Arty in order to achieve this.

The Arturans therefore snip off increasing bits of themselves to denormalise, starting with toes and fingers – because the normal world is so overburdened with expectations (get a good job, have great sex, go on fabulous holidays, you know) you can never find P I P there, so you have to make a radical incremental voluntary rejection of it. Snip snip snip. (Similarly in the great movie City of Lost Children the cult of self-blinded people preach that rejecting diurnal sight liberates the mind to spiritual sight.)

The carnival acquires a very conveniently unethical surgeon who travels with them and performs the amputations. And it was characters like this doctor who, alas, rang too hollow for me – bong bong, the telling sound of a character made up by the author because she had to make that part of the story work, and to hell with any considerations like plausibility.

Plausibility in a story about generically damaged freaks in a freak show which includes a boy with seemingly infinite telekinetic powers? Sure! We ask for believability in a science fiction story set on the Planet Glurg amongs the alien Glurgians just as much as we do in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

So increasingly I couldn’t quite buy a lot of the motivations on display here, even given the abnormal psychologies of some of them. A great deal of what goes on in this book, and a lot goes on, seemed to be series of contrivances towards another ratchetting up of delicious grotesqueness. The Bag Man! The maggot factory from human parts! Let’s have the hunchbacked dwarf do a striptease! The freaks are humanized and dehumanized co-terminously. This author has her cake and eats it.

Anyhow, the cult of Arty, takes up the majority of the story. But there’s also the other part which involves the millionaire Miss Lick who likes to film pretty girls undergoing disfiguring operations. Yes. This is another Big Theme. This is also about liberation. Arty wants to liberate you from normality, and Miss Lick wants to liberate women from male attention. This then allows them to become molecular pharmacologists or top UN interpreters.

These two stories drag the book like a supermarket trolley with wonky wheels towards metaphor and polemic and away from the living breathing world which us readers want from fiction. Fiction has to be true. In Geek Love too many of the characters Stand for Something, like Mrs Do As You Would Be Done By and Mrs Be Done By As You Did in The Water Babies (1863).

I must say that most readers of Geek Love completely disagree with this, they have no problem with these characters and they love the world Katherine Dunn creates. But they can go and write their own review, and many have.

I read that people have been optioning this book for a movie since it came out and I’m surprised it hasn’t been done. Common decency may have prevented it from being filmed before now, I guess, but now we live in a world of The Human Caterpillar and suchlike, so that’s no barrier at all. And CGI makes the rest of it a stroll in the park. I say do it now, and Ellie and Dakota Fanning are shoo-ins for the parts of the Siamese twins.

2.5 stars because it’s some kind of achievement, I guess

Profile Image for Lynx.
198 reviews78 followers
May 26, 2016
"A true freak cannot be made. A true freak must be born."

When times were looking tough, Al and Lil Binewski used their ingenuity, along with some poisons and chemicals, to come up with a way to keep their traveling Carnival alive, breed their own main attractions. First came Arturo, born with flippers for limbs, better known as Arty the Aqua Boy. Then Iphy and Elly, conjoined at the waist who draw in the crowds with their song and dance numbers. Next was Olympia the albino hunchback dwarf, not special enough to warrant her own show but unique enough to keep around to help behind the scenes and finally came Chick. Sweet, cherubic and utterly normal - on the outside at least. Told through the voice of Oly, we follow the rise and fall of the Binewski clan.

My God, what a wild ride! Jealousy, greed, murder, cultism, violence, love, loss, revenge... there isn't much this book doesn't cover. Katherine Dunn does a beautiful job of describing the freakish surface details of her characters and the whole Carnival life while at the same time making each of them utterly human and easily relatable on the inside. This is simply a coming-of-age story revolving around a family in a very unique situation and is beautiful and horrifying and deeply moving all at once.
Profile Image for Misty Marie Harms.
559 reviews303 followers
January 17, 2022
Who told me to read this book? We can't be friends anymore 😂 Real friends don't let you read one-star books 😤

Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,038 followers
June 1, 2014
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 book before, and assumed it would be some love story about characters in the margins, pocket protectors and LARPers. Well, I was half right.

"Like the mucoid nubbin that spins a shell called 'oyster,' we Binewskis wove a midway shelter called 'carnival.'"

The reader of this novel discovers very quickly that geek is used in the second definition of the word - the circus performer, circus freak, carnival freak, not the main tent but the sideshow.

The story goes that the Binewskis fell in love as circus performers but in marriage saw an opportunity to magnify the geek experience. Under her husband Al's direction, Lil takes extreme drugs and chemicals into her body during pregnancy, and gives birth to siamese twins, an albino hairless dwarf with a hump, a child with flippers instead of limbs, and one more child that lives. The novel is the story of the family, starting and ending with Olympia, the albino dwarf child who narrates most of the story.

I kept thinking of Infinite Jest which would have been published seven years later, but may have been influenced by this novel, which was quite popular in the circles of the early 90s non-pop, alternative, pop culture icons. I could picture the Binewskis menagerie of genetic "modification" fitting into the deformed children that live in the society of Wallace's near future world, while not being his main focus. The obsessiveness of Dunn's characters also would have fit well into that world.

I realize not everyone has read Infinite Jest so I'll talk more about the actual book. The tone is incredibly dark. The lengths the characters go to for what they want continued to shock and disgust me, yet I kept reading because I was fascinated and horrified and couldn't look away. There are not any good people here. They are flawed, inside and out. I can't think of anything else like it.

The pull isn't just the characters and ideas but the writing. Dunn has a way with words!

When the children are young, Dunn uses that opportunity to reflect on the evil nature of babies. I think this part might be what I remember most years from now:
"It is, I suppose, the common grief of children at having to protect their parents from reality. It is bitter for the young to see what awful innocence adults grow into, that terrible vulnerability that must be sheltered from the rodent mire of childhood...

How deep and sticky is the darkness of childhood, how rigid the blades of infant evil, which is unadulterated, unrestrained by the convenient cushions of age and its civilizing anesthesia."

And it's true. In Geek Love, the children do terrible, horrible things. You've been warned. The flipper boy character, Arty, is probably the most interesting-disturbing presence. Or is he just the product of his environment?

Some of the story is told by Oly as an adult, where she reflects on the benefits of being outwardly and obviously different.
"Just being visible is my biggest confession, so they try to set me at ease by revealing our equality, by dragging out their own less apparent deformities.... They tell me everything eventually."
I should say that in Geek Love, people outside the family are labeled "Norms" and are usually disregarded. Norms are boring, and lack the special qualities of the family members!

And the Binewski's love/hate the norms. When one of the conjoined twins falls in love for the first time, she only can love the norm boy until he loves her back.
"...If he comes to loving me it's because I've twisted him and changed him. If he loves me he's corrupted. I can't love him anymore. I won't pretend it didn't hurt."

And then later, a similar sentiment from Oly...

"I have certainly mourned for myself. I have wallowed in grief for the lonesome, deliberate seep of my love into the air like the smell of uneaten popcorn greening to rubbery staleness. In the end I would always pull up with a sense of glory, that loving is the strong side. It's feeble to be an object."
This book won't be for everyone, but that's what makes it so great. She doesn't sugarcoat or temper anything, and it's in her willingness to go to an extreme where the beauty lies. But Dunn already knew she didn't fit as a norm!

Discussed on Episode 5 of the Reading Envy podcast!
Profile Image for Vanessa.
864 reviews1,092 followers
April 18, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,706 reviews663 followers
April 22, 2019
I’ve read this book numerous times. It’s one of the few books I’ve ever reread, never mind more than once! This time around I read it on unabridged audio which made the story all the more intimate for me. I also buddy read it with a great group of reading friends. We don’t always agree on books (see my Ghost Story review for more on that) but this time we all LOVED it. Whew, I was so relieved because I’ve been pushing this book on everyone for years and sometimes people do not like it. At all.

This is my most favorite book in the entire world and this fourth or so reread of it did not change my opinion. GEEK LOVE, written in the '80's, satisfies all of my reading needs. It is character driven, the plot is highly disturbing and it always hurts my heart even when I know what is coming but I LOVE it so very much.

I could tell you all about the plot and the dastardly and innocent characters that inhabit the pages but this book is something you must experience on your own. The twists and the turns should come as a surprise and a terrible shock to the system or you won’t get to live out the full impact of Geek Love. I will only say that it is most definitely NOT a romance, despite its name, and that it might crawl under your skin and stay there for a very long time. Give it a read and tell me what you think!

The audiobook version I listened to was narrated by Christina Moore and I thought she did the story justice, imbuing the words with innocence and with rage and despair and narcissism when called for.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
169 reviews280 followers
July 8, 2009
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, serious, brilliant, and beautifully written story. I didn’t “get” that when I first began reading. At first, I thought this book was weird, horrifying, shocking and sometimes sickening. But I recognized and appreciated Katherine Dunn’s excellent writing, and as an admirer of good literature, I kept reading.

I found the first few chapters confusing, mainly because they weren’t arranged chronologically. Dunn did this to set the novel up to follow two storylines: the one that Olympia (Oly), our bald-albino-hunchbacked-dwarf (!) narrator tells during her childhood and adolescence with the carnival; and the present-day story of Oly as an adult, living in a the same boarding house as her mother and her daughter Miranda, neither of whom knows who Oly is. There’s also a star role here for Miss Lick, a wealthy older woman who pays beautiful women to have themselves disfigured.

In the main narrative (where the best writing happens) when “Carnival Fabulon” is threatened with bankruptcy, Oly’s parents, Al Binewski and Chrystal Lil, decide to purposely breed defective children by feeding Lil drugs and radioisotopes in order to “give their children the gift of making money just by being themselves.” The babies that don’t survive are preserved in jars for public viewing. {No offence taken, those of you who choose to leave this review now.} Firstborn Arty is followed by Siamese twins Electra (Elly) and Iphigenia (Iphy); next is Oly, then Chick (Fortunato, because his parents thought he was a “norm” until they learned he is telekinetic).

Oly is our narrator; not deformed enough to perform, she is reduced to the role of a servant to her family. It is her brother Arturo (Arty, Aqua Boy) born with flippers attached to his torso who is really at the centre of the story. Oly loves and hates Arty, while she waits on him “hands and feet”. At seventeen years of age, she has a child, Miranda, by Arty, via Chick, with his telekinetic powers. {Pause, while this sinks in.} This compensates for Oly’s feelings of isolation from the rest of the family – but not for long. It is for Miranda that Oly tells this tale.

Eventually Arty not only controls the whole show and his family; he forms a cult around himself. The “norms” form the cult of self-mutilation and butchery, calling themselves Arturans, with the help of a mysterious Dr. Phyllis. {Note that Dunn is writing this at about the same time that Irving is salting Garp with Ellen Jamesians; something in the water?}

And thus, while what Dunn has created in this multilayered story is admittedly absurd, those of us who chose not to throw this book into the garbage halfway through reading, realize that Dunn wrote to challenge her readers’ opinions about society. What is normal; what is bizarre? How do we perceive and “rate” ourselves compared to others? What do we view as perfection; what do we regard as deformity? What is beneath the surface of people; what is their real reality?

And perhaps most important of all, what is that sickness in our society that allows us to connect – even tenuously – with the particular set of absurdities we find in Geek Love.

Profile Image for Wayne Barrett.
Author 3 books107 followers
January 13, 2016

“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.” ~Katherine Dunn

I loved this book.

For some reason this was one of those that I kept putting off because it didn't sound interesting,but now I know I was missing out on a great story.

This was such a unique view of a family of freaks who are born, live and die as part of the carnival circuit. Mother and father with their living children, the Siamese twins, Oly, the albino hunchback, Arty, Arturo the Aqua Boy and the innocent yet oh so powerful Chick as well as their deceased whom they respectfully care for in their jars of formaldehyde. And lets not forget the hood ornament which is none other than the urn carrying grandpa's ashes.

Seen from the perspective of the Binewski family, we get a glimpse of how we 'norms' appear to the freaks. And we 'norms' get a taste of the mindset and lives of a group of born geeks whose lives are sometimes sad, sometimes horrific, and at all times freaky.

For a horror story, Geek Love packs a pretty emotional punch. This is a book I would definitely recommend.
Profile Image for Howard.
Author 7 books87 followers
March 4, 2008
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.)
Profile Image for Jennifer.
377 reviews25 followers
August 6, 2015
I have copied the lyrics of the following: My review is after them for a reason.

*****Emerson, Lake and Palmer
*****Karn Evil 9 Lyrics
*****from Brain Salad Surgery
*****"Karn Evil 9" is track #5 on the album Brain Salad Surgery.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside!
There behind a glass is a real blade of grass
be careful as you pass.
Move along! Move along!

Come inside, the show's about to start
guaranteed to blow your head apart
Rest assured you'll get your money's worth
The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth.
You've got to see the show, it's a dynamo.
You've got to see the show, it's rock and roll ....

Right before your eyes we pull laughter from the skies
And he laughs until he cries then he dies then he dies
Come inside the shows about to start
Guaranteed to blow your head apart

You gotta see the show
It's a dynamo
You gotta see the show
It's rock and roll

Soon the Gypsy Queen in a glaze of Vaseline
Will perform on guillotine
What a scene! What a scene!
Next upon the stand will you please extend a hand
to Alexander's Ragtime Band
Dixie land, Dixie land
Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the show!

Performing on a stool we've a sight to make you drool
Seven virgins and a mule
Keep it cool. Keep it cool.
We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown
were exclusively our own,
All our own. All our own.
Come and see the show! Come and see the show! Come and see the show!
See the show!

******** Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Karn Evil 9 Lyrics | MetroLyrics

That happens to be a favorite song. It takes one on a journey of sorts. It creates some good and some horrific images. As does this book. It was funny. Utterly horrific. It's about family. I was not prepared. But what an amazing story. I feel like gushing. I love that it is from a point of view that I never even considered. I could not put this one down. Read the blurb on the back of the book and take a journey into the little known.
Profile Image for Candace Whitney Morris.
188 reviews53 followers
August 22, 2007
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 is a hunchback albino dwarf, one is a set of twins attached at the hip. They embark on this Machiavellian sibling rivalry that is wildly entertaining and emotionally gripping.

I think Dunn copped out with the ending though - I think she didn't know what to do with the characters, so she just ended it...I hate to give it away, but I thought it was a sloppy ending indeed.

That being said, she does overwhelmingly succeed in questioning our society's views on the normal vs freakish. I found myself affected by that worldview as I walked around downtown, feeling all of a sudden very sympathetic towards the less than normal demographic that hangs out west of 3rd.
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,706 reviews663 followers
June 22, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,028 reviews661 followers
April 26, 2015
This is a horrifying look between the tent flaps of a traveling carnival known as Binewski's Fabulon. Al and Crystal Lil Binewski have a grotesque way of growing your own. Freaks, that is.

A horrific premise and disturbing ideas make for a very different read. Be forewarned, this one is way dark.
Profile Image for Ferdy.
944 reviews1,097 followers
December 19, 2014

A fucked up, incestuous, surreal carnival story filled with horrible characters who have little to no redeeming qualities. I spent most of my time cringing and shuddering in revulsion whilst reading Geek Love, but in a can't-look-away-car-crash-what's-going-to-happen-next-these-characters-make-me-sick-but-every-disturbing-thing-they-do-is-oh-so-engrossing kind of way. It was utterly absorbing in its WTFery and uniqueness.

Hmm, not really sure where to start with the story so I'll just talk about the characters first:

Al and Lil Binewski (the parents):

Both of them were absolutely despicable, the pair of them were so obsessed with running a successful carnival that they happily took drugs and all sorts of chemical concoctions whilst pregnant so their children would turn out deformed enough that people would buy tickets to see them. The fact some of their children died didn't stop them from poisoning future babies, it only made them more determined. They had no shame or guilt for what they did, so much so they still put their dead children to good use by displaying them in cases so their customers could gawk at them. It only gets worse, if they thought their child was 'normal' they were so devastated by it that they no longer wanted them and were cool with abandoning them. Not only that, they gave their living children all sorts of issues by favouring and loving best the child who was 'freakiest' and most popular.
I hated them at the beginning for what they did to their kids, they grew up having fucked up views and relationships, they didn't have normal childhoods or a proper education, they had to work straight away and happily be gawked at from a very early age. Bizarrely, even though they pissed me off with all their selfishness and craziness by the end I kind of liked them, what they did to their kids was unforgivable but they almost seemed normal, kind, and loving in comparison to other characters.

Olympia Binewski (Al/Lil's daughter/albino hunchback dwarf/protagonist):

At first I though Olympia wasn't as bad as her family, I was rooting for her to have some happiness and break free from the oppressive life she lived. However, by the end of the book I hated her the most. The only thing I liked about her was her being content with her physical appearance and not wanting to be 'normal'. Other than that she was worse than terrible for so many different reasons.
Firstly, she was beyond pathetic, her desperation to fit in and be accepted by Arty (her older brother/star of the carnival) and her family made her utterly unlikeable. She made doormat people everywhere look strong and stubborn. She had less than zero self-respect and dignity when it came to Arty. He walked all over her, treated her like rubbish, messed up her/their family yet she still chased after him, put him above everyone else and only really cared about him. Her pathetic loser personality made me want to punch things.
Secondly, the way she conceived her daughter, Miranda, was sickening. She made her eleven year old brother (Chick) telekinetically steal their older brother's sperm and implant it in her. Arty didn't give his consent, he had no idea what was happening but that didn't matter to Oly, she wanted her brother's baby and that was that. She basically raped him of his sperm. I was glad Arty didn't end up wanting baby Miranda and forced Oly to get rid of her, it deserved her right not being able to raise Miranda, the psycho didn't deserve to have a daughter.
Thirdly, Oly was a cruel, selfish bitch when it came to Miranda's childhood. Miranda was born with a tail and when she was given to some nuns to raise, they wanted to have her tail removed so she wouldn't feel different and she'd fit in with the rest of the kids and not be teased or bullied. But oh no, Oly refused. She wanted her daughter to grow up with a tail because Miranda being normal was shameful to Oly and her family (even though said family would never see Miranda again). She didn't give a fuck about Miranda and doing what was best for her, everything was about making Arty and her family proud or some bullshit. Ugh, then there was Olympia's reaction to finding out Miranda hated having to grow up with a tail, Oly thought Miranda was a selfish and ungrateful bitch for not being happy to grow up different and deformed. Maybe Miranda would have seen her tail as something good if she grew up in carnival full of 'freaks' but she grew up in the real world and had no idea where she came from, so why would she like having something that made others see her as weird and abnormal?! Oly was deluded to think Miranda would be pleased by it all.
The last straw was when Oly blamed Miranda for being targeted by that psycho Miss Lick, it wasn't Miranda's fault that Miss Lick was so jealous and bitter that she paid for beautiful women to be mutilated! Ugh, Miranda was lucky not to have been raised by Oly.
As much as I hated Oly for all her faults and WTFery she still managed to be an extremely entertaining character.

Arty (Oly's older brother, half shark/half man):

Arty was definitely the most immoral and evil character. Even though he was far worse than Oly in everything he did, I didn't detest him nearly as much, probably because he wasn't narrating the story. He did so many fucked up things, the ones that enraged me most was him basically pimping out his sisters, creating his Arturism cult which required people to cut of their limbs, and slowly taking control of the carnival away from his parents. Also, killing off his defenceless siblings out of pettiness and jealousy. He was a prick and a half but an utterly entertaining one. I did like that even though he was pure evil, he wasn't one dimensional, he had all kinds of weird and messed up emotions and layers when it came to his family. I do wish he'd been written as more charismatic and more of an enigma though, I just didn't get why everyone was drawn to him and worshipped him with such intensity.

Iphy/Elly (Oly's sisters/Siamese twins):

They were relatively normal compared to Oly/Arty. I preferred Elly from the two, unlike Iphy she wasn't enamoured of Arty.
It was sad when Elly was basically lobotomised by Arty, I was happy he felt some guilt but it was disappointing that the guilt he felt was more down to him upsetting Iphy than him hurting Elly.
Then there was Mumpho (Elly/Iphy's son), I didn't blame Elly for killing him, she was brain damaged and no doubt disgusted by her body being used in such an awful way. It really wasn't her fault.
Iphy got on my nerves, she was timid and weak and almost as bad as Oly when it came to loving Arty.

Chick (Oly's younger brother/telekinetic but otherwise normal):

Loved this guy, he was the most likeable. I was cheering him on when he finally stood up to Arty's manipulations and killed him. Although, I would have preferred if Arty hadn't died instantly and had instead suffered greatly for years before his death, he needed a taste of his own medicine, he got off way too easy.

Miranda (Oly/Arty's daughter, has a tail):

Other than Miranda being a bit of a user, she was pretty nice. I think her growing up an orphan away from the Binweski's was good for her, she would have ended up fucked up and with lots of issues if she was raised with Oly and co.

Miss Lick (mad rich woman/likes to deform beautiful women):

What a cow targeting vulnerable girls, and manipulating and emotionally blackmailing them into destroying their bodies/faces. She was a spiteful, jealous, hard woman. She deserved a far more painful death than the one she got - I don't know why Oly felt so guilty about killing her when she was planning on hurting her daughter. Also, it was weird how Oly seemed to care more about Miss Lick's welfare than she did about Elly. She showed no emotion when Elly was more or less destroyed by Arty, it was like she was happy about what happened to Elly. Yet she had lots of compassion and sympathy for the horrible Miss Lick - another reason as to why I hated Oly.

Other random thoughts:

-Why did Oly love Arty so much? He treated her like crap 99.9% of the time, he bullied her, scared her and was cruel to her growing up. Her adoration of him made no sense, it wasn't like she only had him in her life, she had Chick, the twins and her parents and they didn't constantly treat her like crap. Oly's devotion to him was based on jack all.

-Why did Iphy, Chick, Oly and thousands of others worship Arty so blindly? Sure, he was entertaining but that didn't account for the level of love he received. His personality wasn't that endearing and he didn't say anything all that profound, he wasn't inspiring in any way, he was just a hateful bastard.
I didn't get it.

-Arty managed to get thousands of people to slowly cut of all their limbs, thus making them pure and freeing them from pain and hardship. It was bonkers. I could see vulnerable and hopeless people being manipulated to join a cult and escape reality, but I couldn't buy thousands of them eagerly and permanently destroying their bodies. It was too far fetched for me. Also, why wasn't he stopped by the police/government? Surely, it wasn't legal.

-All the incestuous vibes were creepy and nauseating. Iphy and Oly were so hot for Arty they wanted to marry him despite him being their brother, it was like it was normal for them to have sexual feelings for each other. I didn't get it, Arty was more fish/shark than man, he had fins and had to either roll around or be carried everywhere, there was nothing attractive (physical or otherwise) about him.
Then there was Oly's obsession with her daughter, the way she described and followed and watched her daughter was messed up. It was like she fancied her or something.

-I got sick of Olympia constantly comparing Melinda to some Binewski trait or other, it was extremely repetitive and heavy handed.

-The slow falling apart of the Binewski family was done really well. In a weird sort of way they started off strong and loving, then they just crashed and burned, which was mostly down to Arty's ambitions and narcissism.

-The writing was a bit hit and miss for me, some of the descriptions were way too vulgar and crass for my liking.

Recommended for anyone interested in a not so typical carnival story featuring grotesque characters who do all kinds of vile things.
Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews97 followers
June 13, 2021
This is going to be a relatively unorganized review because there is seriously so much going on in this book. Mixed feelings, complex ideas, great characters (although many hateable ones), and, frankly, it is screwed up.

A book about cult followings with a cult following. To me, a cult following is a group of individuals who are passionately enamored with a work of art and culture, such as a book or show (i.e. The Binewski's Carnival, especially Arturo's philosophies). It is a relatively small but pretty obsessed group of fans. And the work of art, whatever form it takes, is typically loved or hated. It captures the heart of the selective individuals, and they cling onto it for dear life.

Here is some great art by Katherine Dunn's fans, some of my favorites.

I can definitely understand why Katherine Dunn's genius novel earned its cult status. Where do I place myself in regards to "Geek Love"? Somewhere in between. I would definitely not define myself to be one of the cult following, but I only hated certain aspects of it. I respect Dunn's work and was enamored by the story as I read it (between many moments of extreme frustration), and her talented creativity, imagination, storytelling, and characterization cannot be denied. She has a wonderful way with words; there are many memorable quotes in the novel. Although I did wish for a little more character depth on some of the characters, the character themselves were an accomplishment. (A great examination on this: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php...)

Sadly, I am unable to categorize this as an all time favorite book, as much as I wish I could. I really mean that, because I love the philosophy of this book. That we should all be ourselves, that weird is good. I have always believed this, am quite the blunt, unique girl myself as anyone who has ever met will tell you. So it means something when I started that Dunn simply crosses the line. At least her characters do.

**** Spoilers ****

Why not a five star rating? Like I said, this book is screwed up. Seriously, scarily screwed up. There are two interwoven plots and timelines. The back story tells of the Binewski's Fabulon, the traveling carnival run by Aloysius "Al" Binewski and his wife "Crystal" Lil. When the business begins to fail, the couple devise an idea to custom breed employees using various drugs and radioactive isotopes to alter the genes of their children (inspired by Aloysius's visit to a rose garden in Oregon). The results are Arturo ("Arty," also known as "Aqua Boy"), a boy with flippers for hands and feet; Electra ("Elly") and Iphigenia ("Iphy"), Siamese Twins, Olympia ("Oly"), an albino dwarf that is also hunchbacked, and Fortunato ("Chick"), the normal looking baby of the family who has telekinetic powers (who they were about to abandon because he was normal, when they found out they were actually their greatest "achievement"). Both this and the present day storyline (notated by the "Notes For Now" subtitle in the chapters) are narrated by Olympia ("Oly") who writes the family history for her daughter Miranda. Miranda is the daughter she created by convincing Fortunato to take Arturo's sperm from his behind his back. Arturo is furious when he finds out, and insists that she give Miranda away to a convent. In present day, Olympia uses her voice as a storyteller on the radio, has secretly supported Miranda in the same building she loves in with her mother. The three generations and only survivors of the Binewski's Fabulon following an epic fire.

There are four main appalling ideas/characters/philosophies here. Parents who will throw away children because they are not "weird" enough to be profitable. Secondly, we have Arturo, the oldest son, who convinces hundreds (?) thousands (?) around the country to give up their lives to follow the Binewski's Fabulon, a traveling carnival, and a long process of removing their limbs and other body parts one at a time. Why? Because Arturo has nothing but flippers, and has somehow manipulated all his followers, the Admitted, to aspire to be like him; because only then will they feel beautiful and free from the pressures of society. Thirdly, in the interwoven storyline we have a Mary Lick, heiress of some great fortunes from a frozen dinner company in her family. What does she do with her fortune? She pays attractive women to get disfiguring operations, supposedly so that they may live up to their potential instead of becoming sex ornaments (it is obvious, however, that Lick's real motivation is at least in part to punish them for being more attractive than she is). Where she comes in is that she is trying to pay Miranda to remove her tail (the only weird part about her that Olympia insisted she keep against all the nuns' disapproval). Mary found Miranda in the strip club she dances at and has intensions to possibly "do more" with Miranda. This brings us to the fourth concern. Olympia's only solution, it seems, is to befriend Mary on false pretenses (gives her a fake identity), and then murder her. And die herself in the process. She seems to have actually planned on this, since she left a letter that was worded similarly to a will to her daughter Miranda in which she finally confesses she is her mother, tells her how she can support herself, and asks that she look after her grandmother. I actually dislike Olympia more for her ridiculous blind obedience to her brother than her murder. Seriously. At least this murder, although it seems like there would be another way, is from love. And not a Stockholm Syndrome incest love for someone who treats her like nothing. More on this later.

Why not a five star rating? Back to the age old debate of whether we can truly love books with unlikeable protagonists; villains as heroes. I think that debate needs to be clarified with the difference between a villain that is well written and therefore becomes likeable (maybe not entirely, but enough) and a villain protagonist that may never become likeable but the author pens the story surrounding him/her so impressively that we love the book anyway. Personally, into the former category I place "Gone Girl" and "Lolita", "A Clockwork Orange" and "Psycho" into the latter. There are also shades of villainy. Serial killers are obviously higher up there and more objective villains than, say, Arturo in this novel.

What was Arturo's cult? Well, Arturism defined:
A quasi-religious cult making no representations of a god or gods, and having nothing to say about life after death. The cult represents itself as offering earthly sanctuary from the aggravations of life. Small chalked graffiti, said to be the work of the Admitted, are found in many locations after the Binewski carnival has passed through. Arturo persuades people to have their limbs amputated (so that they can be like him) in their search for the principle he calls PIP ("Peace, Isolation, Purity"). Each member moves up in stages, losing increasingly significant chunks of their body, starting with their toes and fingers. Many commercial posters distributed in advance of the show read, "Arturo knows, All Pain, All Shame, and the Remedy!" A fee, called a dowry, is required for entering the novice stage. The exact amount varies, but it averages $5,000 and is based on the novice's resources. The more the greedy Arturo can get, the more he will take.

(This is all paraphrased and copied on parts from page 227, which details much more of the insanity.)

A sub debate that I am more interested in is in regards to protagonists that are not villains, but are so annoying or does things that I disagree with do much that reading about them makes me frustrated and leads me to not liking the book. This is much more difficult to overcome than a villain, which good writing can remedy. An example is Olympia, our narrator. Why do I hate her so much? Because she loses everything to Arturo. Voluntarily. I might even hate her more than Arturo because, well, he is a villain. And easy to hate, when he tries to murder his family members, when he carelessly gets rid of anything and everything in his way, is openly selfish, and has his cult following anyways. Olympia, now, I want to like her. She seems to have a good heart and has done everything to raise her daughter Miranda right. Everything, that is, within Arturo's graces. In her words,
Dear daughter, I won't try to call my feeling for Arty love. Call it focus. My focus on Art was an ailment, noncommunicable, and, even to me all these years later, incomprehensible. Now I despise myself. But even so I remember, in hot floods, the way he slept, still as death, with his face washed flat, stony as a carved tomb and exquisite. His weakness and his ravening bitter needs were terrible, and beautiful, and irresistible as an earthquake. He scalded or smothered anyone he needed, but his needing and the hurt that it caused me were the most life I ever had. Remember what a poor thing I have always been and forgive me.

He saw no use for you and you interfered with his use of me. I sent you away to please him, to prove my dedication to him, and to prevent him from killing you...

My job was to come back [from the convent] directly, with nothing leaking from beneath my dark glasses, to give Arty his rubdown and then paint him for the next show, nodding cheerfully all the while, never showing anything but attentive care for his muscular wonderfulness. Because he could have killed you. He could have cut off the money that schooled and fed you. He could have erased you so entirely that I never would have had those letters and report cards and photos, or your crayon pictures, or the chance to spy on you, and to love you secretly when everything else was gone.

He could have done worse, but he chose not to.

That last sentence makes me want to strangle her. What is this, Stockholm Syndrome?Ever since he was a young child, Arturo was a very envious, hateful, malicious, vengeful person. He tried to smother his little brother because he could tell he would be more successful than him with his telekinetic powers. And Olympia saw this, knew this, yet still doted on him and had some sorta incest love for him, culminating in her daughter. Who she subsequently sends away on his request.

Conclusion? Both one and five stars, but I lean towards the five because I appreciate and respect Katherine Dunn's creativity and imagination. And, yes, we should all be proud to be ourselves. Be unique. Be weird. Be you. You are amazing the way you are.
Profile Image for Charity.
Author 1 book18 followers
August 18, 2021
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 material...it'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 about belonging and acceptance in ways that are partly disturbing, but not unbelievable.

My favorite line in the book (there are many as Katherine Dunn is terrific with her imagery and her descriptions and analogies): ...a true freak has to be born.

My only complaint is the end of the book, how Dunn chooses to explain the point of the book at the tail end when I kind of believe it would have made better sense at the beginning. Although the book rarely leaves the first-person narrative or its framework even when entering into another person's perspective by way of the main narrator Oly, the tone does shift at the end and that bothered me.

I also don't fully understand the main character's last action...and I don't get the satisfaction of knowing whether or not the message of Oly is given out. Hence, four stars instead of five.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Michelle F.
232 reviews68 followers
January 22, 2022


I sure read this.

I'm not entirely positive how I feel about that; even months later. Sure, I can say that, like everyone else. I certainly found this book to be a teetering pile of bonkers but...beyond that, I'm just not certain I'm hip enough to wholly embrace this somewhat experimental shock drama.

A family piece – told in two time frames from the perspective of an albino hunchback – about the Geek-filled Binewski family and their traveling Fabulon Carnival. Geek Love tells the dark tale of the Act through its past years of success from the viewpoint of the reflective present, when it has become corroded and crumbled by its own freakish toxicity.

“A Carnival in daylight is an unfinished beast, anyway”

Without doubt there are moments to admire in this work, and the more I think about it the more credit I've come to give it. Beyond an appreciation for the lurid scandal of the coarse and odd, I can find heart in this work as well.

But the pacing is lopsided and the focus is so often just hazily off-center, lingering overlong on less interesting elements and then refusing to resolve the most poignant parts.

Sometimes the writing is amazing and much of the imagery is effectively troubling in this house of mirrors writ large. I still find that my notes are littered with words like 'dispassionate', and 'oddly blase', and I found that by the time Dunn got around to showing us that her characters were actually how she kept telling us they were, I just didn't care anymore. And the depressingly despicable characters and worldviews were so prevalent that the impact of the 'shock and odd' wears off.

This is definitely a YMMV situation. I don't think I'd ever revisit this book, but it certainly has a following, and I can understand that it appeals to many. It also makes for a very engaged book-club meeting, let me tell you.

(I'm in the process of cleaning up more than a year's worth of book notes and half finished reviews, and from that perspective I can see that there is something important about this story. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an 'Important Work,' but I can definitely acknowledge that it is nestled in the grassroots of a shift in pop culture appreciation. I can value Geek Love without having fully enjoyed it, and applaud that others do.)
Profile Image for Nomy.
56 reviews26 followers
December 23, 2007
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 this. this is a tale of parents' profiting from the manipulation of their children's bodies, the horizontal abuse between siblings, the feelings of entrapment as "freaks"/disabled people who can't leave their family, and cult status of one of the children who convinces followers to amputate their limbs. what should i take from this, other than the fact that people are entertained by the freak show still. there can be no dialogue between my experiences and those of the characters - they are trapped in the reality of the author's imaginings. i can't look to them for survival skills, just a reflection of the confines i already feel in the world.
Profile Image for Maciek.
558 reviews3,271 followers
July 27, 2013
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 giving it a chance - and getting a free book!

Geek Love was received with applause, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel tells the story of the Biniewskis, a family of carnies who make their living by travelling across the backwoods of the U.S. and showing their many talents. The Biniewskis aren't your ordinary carnies: papa Al Biniewski was a practitioner of some crazy Hunter S. Thompson style eugenics and gave mama Biniewski a ton of different drugs and experimented on her with radioactive materials, so that their children would be born with as many physical deformities as possible. The result is a pair of Siamese twins, Electra and Iphigenia; Arty, a boy without arms and legs and with flippers for hands and feet; Fortunato, also known as Chick, a kid who looks normal but who has amazing telekinetic powers; and Olympia, a hunchbacked albino dwarf who is also the narrator of the story.

The protagonists of Geek Love are all despicable, and none more than the Biniewski seniors, Al and Lily. They value their children only by their deformities, and how strange and exotic they would appear to the outsiders and how much profit they would generate. The Biniewskis treat "normal" people with contempt; Biniewski children who are miraculously born undeformed are abandoned after birth at stores, gas stations and other places where people would find them. Despite the old Biniewskis pretending that the business is a family run affair there's little family there besides business: business and making a profit is the entire rock the carnival is built upon.

Olympia, the main character of the novel, is obsessed with her brother, Arty the Aquaman. Throughout the novel Arty is shown to grow into a self-obsessed megalomaniac: he develops a cult of himself which he calls Arturism, and encourages his followers to mutilate themselves by cutting of parts of their body - starting with fingers and toes, and progressing from there. Arty sees the human body as a burden and believes that only in deformity such as his one can achieve true peace and freedom.

Olympia is just an hunchbacked albino dwarf; by the Biniewski standard she has no real exotic deformity, and because of this she was almost abandoned at birth. She is well aware that she is judged by her parents and feels inferior to her siblings, whom she feels they consider to be of much more worth. Olympia knows that she cannot change her genetics, and this makes her feel weak and worthless. She clings to Arty because he is the only person to give her any attention - even though most (if not all) of it consists of abuse and exploitation - she feels that she deserves the abuse, as it comes from Arty who is obviously much more valued by her parents than she is (they even make her attend to his needs and basically become his servant). Olympia is almost a sympathetic character, but her utter indifference to Arty's Machiavellianism and narcissism makes it hard for the reader to feel sympathy for her as well.

I felt that Katherine Dunn has crafted these weird, twisted characters and aimed to explore their lives - The Biniewski children never feel secure with themselves and their family, feeling they have to compete with one another for affection/approval. Because of this, they do terrible things and end up being miserable. However, I felt that Katherine Dunn simply did not know what to do with her characters, and never created a compelling enough story to carry them through the novel. I was simply Bored as I went on, and felt that the novel did not fulfill its initial potential. As a child, I watched the film Freaks on TCM, and still remember it today. It's a great carnival story of human greed, made immortal by the director's brave choice of casting real people with deformities to play the eponymous "Freaks" instead of actors in make up and costume. The film shocked both the critics and the audience and his career derailed, making it next to impossible to get his next project accepted, but today is considered a cult classic and is preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry for its significance.

I will never forget the culminating scene of Freaks, and the film has left a lasting impact on me. I'm afraid I can't say the same about Geek Love: it culminates when . I did read all the way to the end, but lost interest way before that.

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