Book Review: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)

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Review #7

 

Geek Love details the lives of the Binewski family, a traveling sideshow whose members have all been “blessed” with various oddities. When Al Binewski feels that hiring sideshow acts is no longer profitable, he decides to breed his own oddities instead, using a careful regiment of drugs during his wife’s various pregnancies. His final result consists of Arturo the Aqua Boy, Siamese twins Iphy and Elly, Fortunato who is special in ways too astounding to describe, and Olympia. Olympia is an albino hunchbacked dwarf, the least special of her brothers and sisters. She is therefore relegated to grunt work, and we watch as she comes to grips with the her dysfunctional family and her place among them.

For the Binewski family, the traveling show is all they know. None of these children have ever been to school. Or lived in a house that wasn’t on wheels. Or even seen a film. The circus is the beginning and end of their realm of understanding. Which makes it all the more difficult when some of them begin wish for something more.

The fourth season of American Horror Story was subtitled Freakshow. If you want a good idea of what to expect from Geek Love, picture that television show but with more suspense and human drama in place of all the incessant whining. Geek Love is not an easy book to categorize. It’s certainly contains some horror elements, but it isn’t a horror novel. It could be considered realistic fiction for the first  hundred pages or so but then takes a running leap into magic realism. Mostly, it’s the story of familial bonds that can seem like familial bondage. How can you trust anyone when you know that their love for you is based on your earning potential?

Katherine Dunn has constructed a novel that is equal parts compelling, horrific, and occasionally just confusing. We feel compassion for Olympia towards the beginning of the book, but her incessant spinelessness render her unsympathetic as the story unravels. Arturo the Aqua Boy is a wonderfully developed character. The way that he creates and maintains a cult of personality are reminiscent of Jim Jones or Charles Manson. I won’t give anything away, but his vision to become more than a “circus freak” is as terrifying as it is fascinating. The end result is graphically and disturbingly detailed.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Geek Love. On one hand, it is incredibly well written. I felt drawn to the characters and their seemingly endless plight. On the other hand, the whole thing left me feeling uncomfortable and a bit nauseated. Take that for what you will.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find Geek Love here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

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