Geek Love – Katherine Dunn

I’ve been reluctant to review this book, simply because its utterly fantastic. Its the sort of book that will stay with you for years and years. Its timeless. As part of my degree we are required to read all sorts of literature and to analyse from critical and often non-biased points of view. I’ve found that Geek Love has been one of the hardest to view critically; its just too enjoyable.

Perhaps I should break down this novel into segments. Its postmodern and was published in 1989. It follows the lives of the Bineswki family who are a bunch of road side ‘freaks’ that run a traveling carnival, each of which have bizarre and unusual genetic deformities. I use the term ‘genetic lightly’. The four children were all born through experimentation of both ‘illicit and prescription drugs, insecticides, and eventually radioisotopes’ performed by their mother, Lil Bineswki. Lil came from an aristocratic family, but after meeting Aloysius Bineswki, decided to join his carnival and proceed to bite off the heads of chickens for a living.

The novel is told through the eyes of their daughter, Olympia who is a hunched-back, albino dwarf. Each character in the family can be viewed as total outcasts from society. Arturo, a.k.a Aqua Boy has no arms or legs and spends his childhood performing inside a tank. Electra and Iphigenia are Siamese twins who perform musically, but end up finding their rewards in prostitution. The youngest in the family is Fortunato , A.K.A Chic, who has telekinetic powers. Its a curse, rather than a blessing.

geek-love-art

The novel is almost like a twisted coming-of-age story as the reader views Olympia’s life growing up inside the carnival. For the majority of the novel, Oly recalls the time when she was young; but the present day is set in a time years after her family have perished in a great fire. She lives in the same apartment building with her mother and her daughter whom hasn’t the faintest idea that she exists. As she recalls, when she was young she faced all he bouts of sibling rivalry, rejection of her parents and the whirlwind of her first love. Yet, each child is subconsciously tied to their family. It seems inevitable that there is no way out for any of them; only something truly drastic can happen before they are released from the chains of the carnival.

I’d suggest the antagonist within the novel is Arturo. Oly has a deep love and obsession towards her older brother; she is infatuated and somewhat controlled by him. He becomes what is essentially a god-like figure within the world of the carnival. People come from afar to be like him; to have their limbs chopped off in a desperate attempt to rid themselves of all materialistic and vain obsessions. In a way, it sort of makes sense. But the higher he rises in fame, the more it goes to his head and his ‘experiments’ become more elaborate and sadistic.

There are tons of intricately thought-out characters throughout the novel. One that particularly stands out is The Bag Man who, after attempting to murder the Binewski’s by shooting at them at a gas station, visits their carnival years later in a plea to be a part of their family.

The entire novel is full with delicious phrases and descriptions. Each character and event has been carefully planned out and comes to life on the pages. Though the freaks of the Binewski family live on the edges of society, Dunn provides the reader with such an in depth analyse of their lives, it feels you are part of the family; and society is the outsider.

Geek Love is a fairly long novel, at almost 400 pages, but trust me, you’ll want it to go on longer.

 

10/10

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