Geek Love

Katherine Dunn
Geek Love Cover

Geek Love


The word that comes to mind, when it comes to Geek Love, is disturbing.

Binewski's Fabulon is a travelling carnival owned by Aloysius 'Al' Binewski. It was originally founded by his father, referred to only as Grandpa, who has long since been cremated. His ashes continue on, though, as the silver urn containing them is bolted to the hood of the carnival's generator truck.

Al's wife, Lillian 'Crystal Lil' Binewski, was a Boston debutante. A pretty young woman, she joined the carnival as a geek, gleefully biting off the heads of live chickens before swallowing them. She'd always wanted to fly, though, so when given the chance she attepted to become a trapeze artist. When she fell, breaking her nose and collarbone, Al got the nerve to propose.

Carnival life not always being a steady stream of income, Al and Lil decided to give their children an inbuilt ability to provide for themselves in a way not available to 'norms' like themselves. Through each of Lil's pregnancies, she took a wide variety of supplements to ensure the best results possible. Arsenic, pesticides and drugs, you name it, Al prescribed them and Lil happily gobbled them down. And the results paid off.

Arturo, who the family refer to as Arty, was their oldest son, their first success. Known in the carnival trade as Aqua Boy, Arty was born without any limbs - only fins in place of his arms and feet. Arty is described in the blurb as a meglomaniac, and I find it difficult to disagree. He needs to be the centre of attention at all times, needs to win and be in control at all costs. Whether playing a game of checkers or competing with his sisters on the size of their audience, losing leads to tantrums or worse.

Electra and Iphigenia, or Elly and Iphy, a pair of siamese twins came next. The pair are joined at the waist, having one pair of hips and legs between them. The twins are talented musicians, and the only act that rivals their elder brother's. Elly hates Arty with a passion, while Iphy loves him.

Olympia, called Oly, is the least 'talented' of the family - but it is only in this particular family that you could say that of a bald, albino, hunchback dwarf. She doesn't have her own act, but her father trained her to in projecting her voice and pronunciation - helpful for speaking to crowds. Fittingly, Oly is the narrator.

The final remaining success is Fortunao, called Chick. Chick was believed to have been a failure, to all appearances a 'norm'. He went very close to being abandoned at a petrol station before making his telekinetic powers known at the last moment. For a child of only a few months old, he had already discovered when to pick his moment. Arty hates Chick for the potential his powers give him, ensuring wherever possible that they are of no use to the family. That is, of course, until Arty finds a way to ensure that Chick's powers are used for Arty's own benefit.

Geek Love contains two narratives, set 20 years or so apart, but presented concurrently. It is obvious, in the later narrative, that something went drastically wrong for the family. Oly lives in a boarding house. Her mother and daugher live in the same boarding house, neither knowing Oly's identity. She watches, stalks her daughter, and works at a radio station, reading books aloud - still using the skills her father taught her.

I enjoyed reading Geek Love. It is an incredibly well written book. I know the world Oly lived in, I felt her pain, I knew her feelings, even when I disagreed with them. I wanted to know what happened next, how it was going to end. But I don't know that I could say that I liked the story. It was, as said - disturbing. Mind blowing. Different to anything that I'd ever read before, certainly.

I've seen criticism of style chosen by the author, to string the two narratives together. One review I read, the author was hanging out to know what happened in the story of Oly's childhood, but wasn't caught by that of her adulthood. Myself, I think both were necessary to make a well rounded novel, and to tie off most of the ends. I think it works better to only find out at the relative end of the book what happened to cause the second storyline - but at this point, I should also probably say that Memento is one of my favourite movies, so maybe I just like multiple narratives. But for anything more, I'm afraid you'll have to read it yourself.

I do recommend you try.