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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

a book by Katherine Dunn

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Macabre literary fiction that is both innovative and intoxicating.

  • May 6, 2013
  • by
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 Carnival Fabulon; he genetically engineered his children to be carny freaks, children with outlandish and horrific birth defects, all aided with the help of amphetamines, radioisotopes and arsenic. While traditional moralists might consider the Binewskis repellent in every conceivable way and cringe with disgust at the senior's deplorable actions, love is still love-I guess-and Mr. Binewski does love his genetically manipulated offspring, even if it was the almighty $$$ that propelled him to go outside the boundary of moral ethics.

The children-Arturo, Iphy and Elly, Olympia and Chick-are all endowed with a unique and freakish talent and or ability. Arturo is known as Aquaboy, a fish-like creation who spends a good bulk of his time performing in a water tank. Then there is Iphy and Elly, two Siamese twins who always take center stage when the tents are up. Then there is Olympia, a short, baldheaded albino dwarf whose voiceover abilities make her pitch-perfect for the ringmaster with the microphone. Unfortunately, she is not freakish enough and is thus regulated to being the voice artist, the least profitable position within the family. Lastly, there is Chick, the baby of the family. By all outward appearances, he is the least odd looking of them all. He looks like a "norm" and because of that, Mr. Binewski wants to give him up, for he will contribute nothing financially worthwhile to the carnival business at hand. Crystal Lal, the mother of the odd brood, is reluctant to let any of her "kids" go. On the cusp of abandoning Chick, they soon discover that he has a freakish power that if not kept in check could destroy them all. However, with the new found power, he is kept within the clan, and his ability manifests itself starkly and violently towards the latter end of the novel.

With all the children's bizarre oddities in place and working for a common goal, the Binewski clan lead to all appearances a normal family life. As the novel progresses, however, cracks begin to show through, and Arturo the Aquaboy gradually begins to take the helm as the business's overseer. Yet, he also develops a cult of personality as well as a following by down-and-out groupies who can relate-in some capacity-to the freakish outsiderness that the Binewskis represent, for they are like the leaders of the unpopular people, and Arturo takes them all in under extenuating circumstances. The followers must show their devotion in a radical way, and only by that radical way will they supposedly garner acceptance into the family circle. While Arturo is dealing with the business at hand as well as with his followers, feelings of lustful curiosity arise amongst the children. Iphy and Elly begin to prostitute themselves and Olympia develops incestuous feelings for Arturo, though he never makes good on any of it. Olympia is another story, and she uses Chick's power to get what she wants. Things come to a head and destruction is the only solvent to making everything better, a true finality for something that should never have been. The father and mother were sick in their thinking from the very get-go, and the offspring suffered for it. But true badness always destroys itself in the end, and with the exception for Miranda, Olympia's and Arturo's unsuspecting daughter (who has a tail), she becomes the carrier of the warped Binewski legacy.

Geek Love is a complex and dark novel, not a simple love story as some people suggest, because it begs to ask the reader, What is familial love? Can it go to the extreme as depicted by the Binewski Family? It encompasses suicide, murder (read about Miss Lick), incest and all the horrific attributes of human nature. Yet, the foundation was love, but horror was built on top of it. Geek Love was disturbing and compelling yet utterly different and insightful in the annals of American fiction. It certainly earned its National Book Award nomination and Bram Stoker Prize nomination! If director Todd Browning were still alive, he'd probably love this book.
Macabre literary fiction that is both innovative and intoxicating.

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review by . July 07, 2010
This book starts out in Portland Oregon, the same place author Katherine Dunn presently lives.  The narrator is the daughter of a circus family, telling the story of she and her 'circus freak' siblings.  The 'geek' in 'Geek Love' refers to her father, who bites the heads off of chickens.  The family travels around, the parents concoct all sorts of ways to make freak babies.  They have special talents.  They start a cult.  But it's not as …
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
This book is fantastic- well-written and creative. It's also disturbing in some places, and downright gross in others. Still, it's a cult classic and will always have a space on my shelf.
review by . November 15, 2008
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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 …
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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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