Review: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Title: Geek Love
Author: Katherine Dunn
Pages: 348
Genre: Contemporary Fictiion
Release Date: March 11th, 1989
Publisher: Vintage
Source: Personal Copy

There is one thing about being in a book club that can be both good and bad: reading books you wouldn't normally read. Geek Love falls into the bad version of this category. I can't say that I would have picked this one up without it having been chosen for the November book, and after (almost) finishing it I can say it was one of the worst books I've read this year.
The resourceful [parents] began experimenting with illicit and prescription drugs, insecticides, and eventually radioisotopes.... He realized that children could be designed. 'And I thought to myself, now that would be a rose garden worthy of a man's interest.'
The Binewskis are a carny family who travel the country showcasing their many absurdities and deformities. Genetically engineered by father Al, the children each exhibit different oddities. Arturo (Arty) the Aqua Boy is the oldest and has only flipper-like appendages; Olympia (Oly) is a hump-backed albino dwarf who is devoted to Arty; Electra and Iphigenia are siamese twins; and Fortunato (Chick) posseses psychokinetic powers that are often exploited by Arty. There are many other characters that join the show, Fabulon, such as Dr. Phyllis who is hired by Arty to do many outrageous experiments and operations. While this is the main focus of Geek Love, there is is a second, parallel narrative taking place in the present. Oly, who serves as the stories' narrator, is now an old woman who is secretly spying on her daughter Miranda who she gave up after birth. As Oly tries to find a way to connect with Miranda, memories of her life in the carnival keep resurfacing, and she begins to reveal the events that lead up to her current situation.

In order to provide a balanced review, here are a few tidbits for those of you who haven't heard of this book: Geek Love was met with critical aclaim after its publication in 1989 and was a finalist for the National Book Award that same year. The overall response from readers is positive, with the average rating on Goodreads being a 3.98, so I'm definitely in the minority in disliking the book. Before I jump into my thoughts and feelings, which are generally negative, I'll start with the few good qualities of Geek Love. Dunn is talented with words and the writing, on a technical level, was pretty good. She is able to create this profoundly disturbing and grotesque world that definitely illicits many complex emotions. There are very few writers who can make me feel this passionately about a book.
I've conquered them. They thought to use and shame me but I win out by nature, because a true freak cannot be made. A true freak must be born.
Geek Love was a roller coaster ride that I just couldn't stomach. I read about 2/3 of the book before giving up and skipping to the last 20 or so pages - mainly to see how the train wreck finally ends. Dunn introduces some very extreme scenes too quickly, and from there on every disturbing paragraph felt overdone. It was as if Dunn kept throwing grotesque elements in just for the hell of it without much focus on furthering the plot. Ultimately this book became boring and very repetitive. I am capable of suspending belief in order to fully enjoy a story, but I can only go so far when I loathe all the characters.

As I read more and more into Geek Love, I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about. I understand the commentary about society and what is considered "normal." I get the ironic use of physical deformities as an idolized way of life. However, using deformities as a marketing tool is upsetting, and, on a personal level, I can't get past the idea that being a so-called freak gives one the right to forego basic human decency. There are so many other books that I would rather read right now which made this one almost impossible to get as far as I did. I guess this just wasn't the right time for me to read this book.


  1. Oh, I am sorry that you didn't like this one! It sounds like you had a very visceral reaction to it!

  2. Count me among the book's admirers, I suppose, though it has been more than a dozen years since I read it. I didn't *love* it, but I'm sorry that you didn't like it a little better.

  3. I typically do not like books that center around freak shows or carnivals so I don't think I'd enjoy this one. As a matter of fact, a member of my book club read it when it first came out, tried to pitch it to the group and we shot it down. Quickly.

  4. This is such a great review, Jenna. And I completely agree-- toss this one into the DID NOT FINISH pile. I know our next read is going to be great!


Post a Comment