Have you read: Family of oddities at center of ‘Geek Love’
“Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn
As you enter the dusty fairgrounds, a brightly colored banner flutters overhead, proclaiming “Binewski’s Carnival Fabulon.” You take in the scent of buttery popcorn, freshly battered corndogs and sugary sweet cotton candy. Strolling a little farther, your ears are assaulted by the banter and cajolery of the carnies running games of chance and skill, while young men throw darts at balloons, trying to pop enough to secure giant, stuffed dogs for their girlfriends. At the end of the midway is the biggest tent you have ever seen and crowds of people wait patiently to get in.
But wait. Why are there so many crutches and wheelchairs? So many bandaged hands and feet? And who is the bald, albino, hunchbacked dwarf outside, talking up the crowd? “Step right this way, folks! From the darkest mysteries of science, a revelation of poetic grace! Step up, friends, and behold a vision of the miraculous extravagance of Nature for the same simple price as an overcooked hotdog!” Your curiosity has been piqued and as you trade your dollar for a ticket, the dwarf smiles at you, her pink eyes hidden behind round, blue spectacles. You step out from the bright sunlight into the dark, bizarre world of Katherine Dunn’s riveting novel “Geek Love.”
A National Book Award Finalist from 1989, “Geek Love” chronicles the rise and fall of the Binewski clan, a family of human oddities who are the main attractions of their own traveling carnival. The story is told from the point of view of the aforementioned dwarf and youngest sister, Olympia (‘Oly’ for short). Her other siblings are unique in their own ways: Elly and Iphy, the Siamese twins whose musical skills can touch the heart of even the coldest man; Chick, whose seemingly normal appearance hides the most extraordinary talents; and Arturo the Aqua Boy, a flippered megalomaniac whose desire for fame and power could ultimately destroy everything and everyone around him.
Parallel to the history of the family is the story of Oly as an adult and her secretive life spent keeping an eye on her daughter, Miranda. Forced to give up Miranda as a baby because she was too “normal,” Olympia arranges for them to be neighbors while her daughter attends art school, never letting on that she is Miranda’s mother. When she finds out that a rich, mysterious woman wants to pay her beautiful offspring to have her one freakish quality removed (a small tail that juts from the base of her spine), Oly begins plotting and planning to get rid of this benefactor, believing the deformity to be a huge part of what made her long lost family “special” to begin with.
At first “Geek Love” might read like a David Lynch script, but you quickly lose that sense of the strange and unusual and fall into the rhythm of the tale, absurdly poignant as it is. Blackly humorous and compelling, Katherine Dunn paints a haunting portrait of family life as dark and forbidding as a carnival midway at 4 a.m.
– Lydia Chagolla is a sales associate at Neighbors Bookstore.
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