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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

a book by Katherine Dunn

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Beastly portrayal of physical deformity & mental oppression

  • Nov 15, 2008
  • by
It was Douglas E. Winter who said, "Horror is not a genre, it is an emotion." With that bold and all-too-true statement ringing in your ears, I will tell you that "Geek Love" is a horror story. The protagonists are not simply trapped by their physical deformities, but also by their own familial love and the malevolent manipulation from one who is of them.

The majority of the story is told by Olympia Binewski, born into a carnival family of intentional freaks. Al and "Crystal Lil" Binewski set about starting their family with one intention; additions to the carnival's attractions. Lily takes illegal drugs, insecticides, and even radioisotopes in order to purposefully "give their children the gift of making money just by being themselves." In other words, they create a family of horribly deformed children, their own freak show.

Arturo, known as Aqua Boy, is the first of their children to survive. He is a torso with flippers for arms and legs. Second born are the Siamese twins Electra and Iphigenia, two perfect torsos rising up from one set of hips and legs, stunningly beautiful despite their deformity. Olympia herself is the third living child, a hunchback albino dwarf, she is considered to be too commonplace to be useful but is kept anyway. The youngest child, Fortunato, called Chick, was almost left on a doorstep for being normal when his telekinetic powers were discovered. Kept in what was called "The Chute", in glass display jars, were the children of Al and Lily that did not live, yet kept as attractions in the Binewski Fabulon Carnival.

Dunn's tale of quiet, creeping horror takes place in two separate time frames, Olympia's childhood with the carnival and a present day encounter with the daughter who doesn't know her. The "present-day" storyline is a bit weak, stilted and practically unfeeling in its telling, but Olympia's childhood with the Fabulon is wrought with deeply impacting emotions of fear, hate, bitterness, happiness...and love.

From the quietly acquiescing Olympia to the independence of the twins to the narcissistic brutality of Arturo, and the gentle genius of Chick, you love and hate the Binewski's as you find yourself completely engulfed in their strange world. Arturo performs in a fish tank, and the twins take piano and singing lessons to entertain the crowds, while Olympia basically becomes a slave to her brother Arturo.

But Arturo is not satisfied simply swimming in a tank, and with the help of an underwater sound device and his very own gift of speech, begins to mesmerize the crowds and forms a cult around himself. A deadly cult of self-mutilation and butchery that called themselves Arturans rises up to follow the Aqua Boy, including a questionable physician called Dr. Phyllis, who joined the carnival after performing abdominal surgery on herself in her dorm room.

You will meet Horst, the cat man and his tigers; Zephir McGurk, who tries to sell Arturo a strange device and winds out joining the Arturans; Norval Sanderson, a reporter who exposes Arturo's cult and then joins the carnival to sell maggots; Vern Bogner, a madman who eventually becomes "The Bag Man"; and the numerous Redheads who tends the carnival's food and game stands.

From languid childhood afternoons to horrifying parking lot murderers, from close-knit family story times to vicious sibling rivalry, Geek Love is anything but dull or boring. Innocence at the beginning, trepidation in the middle, heartbreak at the end, all stirred in with the tendrils of horror that creep from the pages and bite unexpectedly, Dunn has managed to puncture my mind and my flesh with this expertly crafted story.

Powerful, heartbreaking, maddening, frustrating, sickening, fascinating, repugnant and yet alluring, Geek Love is a tightly written masterpiece of finding beauty in sewers, and putrescence in that which glitters. Any book that stirs my love/hate passions as deeply as Geek Love deserves to receive my highest recommendation. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Enjoy!
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

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review by . May 06, 2013
Macabre literary fiction that is both innovative and intoxicating.
Breathtakingly original in plot and in character creation, Geek Love is a unique work of contemporary fiction unlike any other. Initially, I wanted to dislike the story of the complex Binewski clan, not because they were a corporate money making carny family whose yearnings for cash was the golden rule and how to get it the all consuming pastime, but it was because of what the senior Binewski did to his offspring in order to make them more profitable in the carny lifestyle, particularly the Binewski's …
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I want to thank Everyone for welcoming me back! :) I'm here to stay folks, my sabbatical on writing reviews is over and I'll continue to review for Lunch. It's great to be back, too! Thanks again for … more
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From Publishers Weekly
This audacious, mesmerizing novel should carry a warning: "Reader Beware." Those entering the world of carnival freaks described by narrator Olympia Binewski, a bald, humpbacked albino dwarf, will find no escape from a story at once engrossing and repellent, funny and terrifying, unreal and true to human nature. Dunn's vivid, energetic prose, her soaring imagination and assured narrative skill fuse to produce an unforgettable tale. The premise is bizarre. Art and Lily, owners of Binewski's Fabulon, a traveling carnival, decide to breed their own freak show by creating genetically altered children through the use of experimental drugs. "What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?" muses Lily. Eventually their family consists of Arty, aka Arturo the Aqua Boy, born with flippers instead of limbs, who performs swimming inside a tank and soon learns how to manipulate his audience; Electra and Iphigenia, Siamese twins and pianists; the narrator, Oly; and Fortunato, also called the Chick, who seems normal at birth, but whose telekinetic powers become apparent just as his brokenhearted parents are about to abandon him. More than anatomy has been altered. Arty is a monsterpower hungry, evil, malicious, consumed by "dark, bitter meanness and . . . jagged rippling jealousy." Yet he has the capacity to inspire adoration, especially that of Oly, who is his willing ...
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ISBN-10: 0375713344 (pbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780375713347 (pbk.)
Author: Katherine Dunn
Genre: General Fiction, Horror
Publisher: Vintage (June 11, 2002)
Date Published: (June 11, 2002)
Format: Paperback: 368 pages, Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
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