Sunday, December 26, 2010

Redux #41 - "Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love (1983) by Katherine Dunn first came to my attention on some kind of Pajiba book list, and then I was reminded of it again when one of my office mates started reading it. Usually it only takes a couple of exposures to a new book before I decide that it needs to be read. I was a little surprised, however, to find that it was written back in 1983, when I was only four. I had the impression that it was a new book, but I can see why it has stuck around so long, Geek Love is interesting, well-written, and one of the most bizarre and creative books that I have ever read.

The narrator of this tale is Olympia Binewski, daughter of owners of a traveling carnival. Although they travel all over the country, the small world of the carnival and her family is the only thing she knows. Oly is also the product of her parents' attempt to profit from their prodigy by creating "freaks" for their acts by experimenting with drugs and chemicals during her mother's pregnancy. The result is a truly unique and dysfunctional family with Oly as the most normal--and thus least profitable and important--of her siblings, an albino hunchback dwarf. And in a family where children are looked at as products and normal children are cast out of the family as useless, Oly does not have a lot of self-esteem or carry much power within the family.

This book works on a number of levels. First, the story is a fascinating, creative tale that keeps you reading. This is not a predictable book, and the language and story are completely unique and often disturbing. It was never hard for me to pick this book up and immediately get into it, even when the actions of some of the characters were making my stomach hurt. There is also something of a fantastical element to this book; it goes beyond what is possible, but Dunn somehow makes it believable for the world that she's created. And even though the actual situations the family encounters are beyond anything I would ever experience or relate to, there are some true family dynamics throughout the book. Al, Oly's father, is something of a heartless tyrant, and you can see how his influence settles over the relationships and power struggles between his children.

Geek Love is one of those books that is impossible to sum up; I don't even want to try because it would sound so bizarre and off-putting. It's just one of those books that needs to be experienced. This one will leave you more unsettled and disturbed than happy, but it is a wonderfully written and unique novel that stands the test of time.

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