Sunday, February 1, 2015

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out–with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes–to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious–and dangerous–asset. As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same.

My take: 4 looks
What a CRAZY book! I happened upon this book on a "If you liked...then try..."site. It told me that if I had liked American Horror Story: Freak Show, then I should read this book by Dunn.

Al and Lil actually try to procreate freaks, called "geeks" in the book. Lil takes all kinds of substances while pregnant to ensure their children are not "norms". Aside from the ones who don't make it, kept for posterity in jars in "the chute", they are pretty successful.

As a fan of the 1932 movie "Freaks" by Tod Browning, I was not surprised or horrified by anything I read here. Freaks are so on the outside, but are human beings on the inside. The juxtaposition of "norms" who manipulate and kill (like Dr. P in the book) with the "freaks" who only want to be accepted (like our narrator) is a common theme in tales like this one.

However, Arty the Aqua Boy was a freak of a freak. The perfect antagonist, he reeked of jealousy, narcissism and yes, a little bit of an incestuous bent. His fierce competition with his Siamese twin sisters for the box office could have been comical if it were not so intense. His loathing for those who came to see him drove him to push them father than I am sure anyone thought they would go.

The one item I had trouble buying was the rise of Arty's control. You will, of course, have to read the book; but he gains control at an age and rate that is unbelievable, even for a story of freaks. Al was a "man's man", and had firm control of the business. However, when Arty started to take over, there was no wrangling at all. That would have made for an interesting dynamic in the relationship of father/son that was missing.

The other characters were interesting and well-drawn. I particularly liked Mary Lick and would have liked to have read more of her.

All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable and fast read. However, I don't see the hubbub of other reviewers in citing this book as trailblazing or groundbreaking. It was a nice, fun read which was well-written and could have used about 100 more pages.


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