Bonnie’s review of Geek Love > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie There are so many varied opinions about this, I thought I would give it a go. I really dislike not finishing something I start, so...

message 2: by Sparrow (new)

Sparrow Hey, Bonnie! I do like your review. I guess I would have to say that after, maybe, the first quarter of the book I stopped connecting at all with the characters, especially Oly (but really everyone). I thought the beginning was actually very magical in a fun, evil way, but after the story was basically established it was all frosting and no cake. I didn't feel like there was anything deep about the characters, except how much they hated and wanted to kill each other over really petty stuff. I actually flipped to the end after I decided not to finish it to make sure it would all continue the way I thought it would, and I was surprised because it seemed to get more unpleasant. Katherine Dunn has a fascinating writing style, though. It just wasn't enough for me.

I've heard people make arguments like I just made against Wuthering Heights. For some reason, those characters, even though they are more physically human than the characters in Geek Love, are more extreme and monstery to me, which makes them fun. I thought the characters in Geek Love ended up just being kind of a drag.

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason I, too, thought it a swell review, Bonnie! I think what always impresses me most about Dunn's novel (among a whole host of things I love) is something you note, too: you start out cringing and gawping and delighting in the carny craziness, but (oh) maybe 100 pages in you get acclimated, and suddenly you're identifying with, rather than just staring at, the characters. It is dazzling in capturing the complexities of "freakery" and the ephemerality of normalcy, and I've read a few great reviews (and so teach it myself) in relation to disability studies.

But I also just flat love its exuberant grotesque humor and its equally excessive Romantic passion (in ye olde Shelley-and-Byron sense--or Bronte, as Meredith suggests smartly). There's a digression, a couple pages at most, about a fly wrangler that delights me every time I re-read this novel. And there's a bit where Oly talks about loving her daughter so much she wants to bite right into her, chew her up. Wow....

Again, nice review.

message 4: by Chris (last edited Jul 10, 2009 06:24AM) (new)

Chris {Note that Dunn is writing this at about the same time that Irving is salting Garp with Ellen Jamesians; something in the water?}

Nice! I thought the same thing. Great review, Bonnie.

Mike wrote: "It is dazzling in capturing the complexities of "freakery" and the ephemerality of normalcy, and I've read a few great reviews (and so teach it myself) in relation to disability studies."

I'd be interested in hearing/learning more about this issue. (By the by, I wish I had been taught by someone like you when I was in school, Mike. I left college with a total disinterest in reading after having stuffy old classics shoved down my throat semester after semester. I wasted the better part of my twenties playing Madden football and watching the same three or four movies over and over again.)

message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason Re disabilities, a few things pop up in various essays: the novel captures the paradoxical attraction to and repulsion from bodily difference, and this can be a useful tool for untangling the complexities of our relationship to bodily difference. The novel also pretty ruthlessly critiques, and even more slyly undermines, our sense of the normal. I find there's an almost invariable paradigm-shift in class discussions, where at first there's a fanatic love or hatred of the novel's craziness, but soon most everyone gets sucked in, loves these characters. As Bonnie says, we find the novel normal, after a while. That's pretty strange and wonderful, and a far more useful tool for engaging with our sense of bodily difference than the cheap well-meaning norm-reinforcing platitudes of most RainMannish disability narratives.

And re my teaching: I have a fairly simple pedagogical philosophy. First, pick the right book or flick, and you could drone like Ben Stein and people will still like. Second, swear a lot. Who doesn't like that?

message 6: by Chris (last edited Jul 10, 2009 08:26AM) (new)

Chris I love how the book blurs the line between "freak" and "normal." While reading it, I keep thinking of the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry David and John McEnroe are looking at the "Mondo Freaks" book and laughing their asses off and screaming "Freaks!!" I think that may be one of the funniest episodes of any TV show ever. If Larry David and John McEnroe aren't freaks, then there's no such thing as one.

I think that the cheap RainMannish platitudes only further the Us vs. Them mentality. Do they really need the collective pity of us "normal" people? Most disabled people I know are far happier than I could ever hope to be. If anything, they probably pity me.

There's this blind lady who works in my building who has the worst guide dog ever. The dog is always running her into walls and pooping in the garden out in front of the office. She's always chastising him and yelling "STOP THAT, ROYCE!" I think it's fucking hilarious but whenever I tell the funny guide dog stories to co-workers and friends, they politely smile and suggest that I'm not being very nice/sensitive. Why not? It's funny.

I'm all over the place here but whatever, it's Friday. My toddler's favorite book lately is Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. It has all of these little babies from all over the world who are brought together by the fact that when they were born they "as everyone knows, had ten little fingers and ten little toes." My first thought when I first cracked this book open was of my childhood friend who only had three fingers on his right hand. He was so embarrassed by it that he kept his hand in his pocket all day long. As we got older and were expected to shake hands, he opted for the left. He eventually tried to avoid handshakes altogether when the left-handed shake didn't go over too well. As much as I felt bad for him and wished he wasn't so embarrassed by it, the fact is that every time he took that hand out of his pocket, I stared at it. Everyone stared at it.

message 7: by Jen (new)

Jen Chris wrote: "I love how the book blurs the line between "freak" and "normal." While reading it, I keep thinking of the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry David and John McEnroe are looking at the "Mondo ..."

I laughed at your Royce story. But I have cultivated an appreciation for wrongness- invested a lot of time and work in it. And also, my cousin had to have her insides pinned inside of her because she was born with them on the outside. I remember taking naps next to her and begging to feel the braille of her tummy. That she is still alive and has even had a baby is a miracle to me.

message 8: by Jason (new)

Jason Well, I certainly suffer from (i.e., relish) the "wrongness" appreciation, too. I also grew up surrounded by people with different abilities -- my dad taught special ed, my uncle's deaf and developmentally disabled, my cousin's got Trisomy 18. And it kind of blew me away when I realized that other people thought such differences were exotic and/or off-putting, were more significant than the host of other differences (short, fat, loud, hairy) taken for granted; I recall watching people stare in that weird mix of fascination-shock-repulsion-guilt when we went out to lunch with my cousin, as she went on one of her laughing/screaming jags to get our attention. Bugged the shit out of me, but I've come to embrace the stare, and the laugh, as a way in to a more honest, authentic engagement. (Rosemarie Garland Thompson has a cool-looking book called Staring: How We Look that I just bought, and she's always worth reading.)

Speaking of funny--Larry David has another episode where he ends up eating lunch with a group of people with disabilities. They mock him, he mocks them. I think that is one of my favorite episodes. Hell, the very BEST stuff about people with disabilities seems to be comedy, often edgy -- check out this article at New Mobility. We've hijacked Bonnie's thread, but one last thing--the article mentions a possible show called "How's Your News?", which is already a wonderful, and very funny, documentary -- check it out....

message 9: by Chris (new)

Chris I hope Bonnie doesn't mind the hijacking, especially since we really haven't strayed too far from Geek Love with this discussion.

message 10: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie I don't mind the hijacking at all!

One of the things that Geek Love does well is to confront us, perhaps grotesquely, with how poorly our society deals with difference and disability.

message 11: by Sparrow (new)

Sparrow It's interesting what you say, Mike, about this book being a good critique of body difference and freakiness. I guess I felt more alienated by the characters as their personalities were developed. I had a similar experience when I took a class in college called "Southern Women Writers" in which the professor gave a long talk about stereotypes against white trash and assigned Bastard out of Carolina as reading for the topic. Supposedly, her point was to combat negative generalizations about the poor in the South by providing a more complex idea of that group of people. For me, however, it did the opposite. All of the characters were at best petty and selfish and at worst incestuous child molesters or murderers. It did not add complexity to my idea of people who could be called trashy, but played to really negative stereotypes of poor people.

In the same way, I thought the superhero abilities of the freaks in Geek Love were fascinating, but the personalities were shallow and annoying. I was disappointed because I thought I would feel more like all of you are saying you did, but really the most freaky thing to me about these characters were their personalities.

Bonnie - do you feel like it accurately confronts us with the way our society deals with difference and disability? I felt like Dunn was just being mean to her characters for shock value.

message 12: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Of course it's hyperbole - to make a point - but I do think the point is valid.

On this planet we are not very good in accepting difference of any kind, but especially when the difference is seen as a mark of inferiority.

message 13: by Chris (new)

Chris Does an author have the responsibility to avoid stereotypes when creating her characters? Does she have a responsibility to create likable characters? I found people I know in the individual personalities of all of these freaks. That's part of what makes this book so good, in my opinion. Despite being total freaks, they're totally normal.

If a person of a particular race does something that plays into a negative stereotype, many people attach that behavior to the person's race, not the person himself. Why does something a black guy does have to be "typical black guy behavior"? Can't a black guy just be an asshole or a douchebag or whatever you would call a white guy who did the same thing? Shitty people come in all different shapes and sizes. Why can't a guy with no arms and legs be a power-hungry megalomaniac? Why can't siamese twins despise their family (and each other)? They're still human, aren't they?

I think I asked seven questions in those two paragraphs! No need to actually answer them, Meredith. :-)

message 14: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 10, 2009 08:41PM) (new)

Sparrow I totally agree with what you're saying, Chris, and I think it's a really interesting point. It reminds me of the story about how the men involved in the Harlem Renaissance were angry at Zora Neale Hurston for portraying black men as lazy or abusive. If I remember right, they argued that by reinforcing negative stereotypes her stories undermined their work to give black men equal rights. While I love Zora Neale Hurston's stories, I think the Harlem Renaissance guys had a point - her male characters are not complex. If her intent was to shatter stereotypes of black men, I would have to say she failed. But I don't think that was her intent, and the shallowness of many of her male characters comes because they are not the center of the story, they are only side characters.

Anyway, my point is that I don't think an author has the responsibility to avoid stereotypes, but it seemed to me like this thread was leaning toward the opinion that the book works to improve a reader's opinion of people with different bodies and abilities and against stereotyping. I just don't think that is true in my case. Not that I walked away from it with a bunch of stereotypes, either, I was just surprised at the take that it "captures the complexity of 'freakery'". I don't think it's incredibly new or complex for an albino hunchback to have blind devotion to a power-hungry megalomaniac (see The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, for example, :) ). I'm not sure it was Dunn's intent to undermine stereotypes, I just don't think she did. Good lessons from Curb, though, Mike! And funny!

With all that explanation, I would answer your questions like this:

1. No; 2. That is to tough a question for me. I love monsters, but when characters are just annoying and petty it seems like a waste of time to read about them. Probably everyone has a different definition of "likeable"; 3. Good point; 4. Yes, thank you Zora Neale! 5. He can, but I hate him and all the rest of that family - as you say, shitty people; 6. Sure. I do; 7. Yep, but also, no, they're just characters in a book. I would have like them to have been more human to me.

When I first started reading I loved the idea of the book so much that I went around telling everyone to read it. I thought the concept was beyond excellent and Dunn's writing is exceptional. I just hated all of the characters so much by the middle of the book that I couldn't even finish it, which almost never happens with me. I'm an obsessive book-finisher. I agree, Chris, that authors can write shitty people of any shape and size, but in order for them to be complex characters, there has to be something in their personality beyond just shitty, I think.

Sorry for the ridiculously long response!

message 15: by Chris (new)

Chris Nice post, Meredith! You really didn't have to answer my stupid rhetorical questions but I'm glad you did. It seems that the real problem for you was that these characters never became fully realized people. (When that happens for me, I have no problem quitting on a book. I have a ton of unfinished books lying around my house.) While I didn't have that problem with this book, I can definitely see where you're coming from.

message 16: by Jason (new)

Jason Great stuff, Meredith and Chris!

message 17: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin Thank you for explaining why this is seen as a great book' and why first edition as so collected! i adored odd stuff-see by book listings! But this book was just too twisted for me--on a personal level--so my review was down on it--yes it is well written and I never gave it the credit for that once I force finished it. My copy came from the holy of holy book stores Powell's of Portland--where they have first editions signed of this book for big $$$, and i could not understand that after reading it--now I do after excellent review.
I just do not think Chris, they are able to become Full people, due to their disabilities and living conditions/abuse. I see this all the time as an ER nurse--this causes developmental delays, and you cannot fully develop as an adult due to that based on many theorist. I had to do assessments on pysch cases for my BSN and mine was a young teen--he failed throughout his life--and I got a 100%--andI felt like a failed! You have to have the skill set to develop into functional adults and cope properly--they did not have it at all, nor ever.

One last thing chris, when i was a great healing shourt term relationship in san fran--the man taught me a lot about music, boos, art, foods--things i never tried before in my life--long distance for me to see him--but part of my heart will always be his, even though i am happily married--my hubby knows and accepts this for JF made me a better person. Sometime a film or book WILL BE A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE FOR YOU! But you still can learn and grow from it! He had me see several fims i never would have gone to that left me horrified or feeling down--but i did learn something from the negative impact on me. Only one film never taught me ANYTHING: "NATURAL BORN KILLERS"--MOST nasty piece horror killing on film! Maybe since I am an ER nurse i could not take it--It is far to graphic for me. Just saying sometimes--you might learn thru the negative reaction you are feeling--why and such. open eys to a new world.

thank you kindly for listening to my point of view--not trying to rattle any cages--just looking for adult conversation before my toddler gets up and puts toons on! :)

message 18: by Tash (new)

Tash what is this sickness that allows us to connect with this particular set of absurdities? or what is the sickness of society that would make us feel sick in connecting?! i've been told i'm 'weird' all my life. what is weird? i feel normal. aren't all those 'normal' people the 'weird' ones? grab some of you character and don't be afraid to show it...

message 19: by Noran (last edited Aug 14, 2009 10:29AM) (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin sane ones admit they are different and like that! insane strive to be lemers racing for the cliffs--all in Prada!

message 20: by Michelle (new)

Michelle ??

message 21: by Jen (new)

Jen Who are the ones at the bottom of the cliff waiting for free Prada to fall from the heavens like fashion manna? Just curious- need to know if I am sane or not.

message 22: by Tash (last edited Jul 29, 2009 11:47AM) (new)

Tash i'll wait for free prada...

message 23: by Jen (new)

Jen with a trampoline down below. We wouldn't want to hurt those lemurs. I should have added that before. Lemmings can die for all I care but lemurs are too cute.

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