The Marvelous Grotesquerie of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love
“Geek Love may offend; it may repulse; in doing so, however, it speaks directly to what it means to be human.”
“…a true freak cannot be made. A true freak must be born.”
“HUR-REE! HUR-REE! Step right up, lady and gentlemen readers! Welcome to Aloysius Binewski’s Fabulous traveling carnival and freak show! See Arturo Binewski, the amazing legless, armless Aqua Boy! See Electra and Iphigenia, the beautiful piano-playing Siamese twins! Meet Olympia Binewski, the bald albino hunchbacked dwarf! Read Katherine Dunn’s provocative, inventive, funny, gristly and hugely compelling third novel! HUR-REE! HUR-REE!…
Geek Love asks the question ‘what greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?’ Thus, Al Binewski and his wife, Crystal Lil, ‘experimenting with illicit prescription drugs, insecticides, and eventually radarscopes,’ give birth to a series of crowd-pleasingly deformed children.
“The target of Dunn’s grotesquerie is our hypocritical culture, which claims to celebrate individualism but vigorously promotes conformity and conventional beauty. Less a typical nuclear family than a nuked one, the Binewskis despise ‘norms’—to the extent of killing or abandoning those of their infants born without a speciality.
When asked if she would make her siblings normal if she could, Oly declares, ‘That’s ridiculous! Each of us is unique. We are masterpieces. Why would I want to change us into assembly-line items? The only way you [normal] people can tell each other apart is by your clothes.’
“Right at the start of the novel, Dunn introduces us to a world in which the ugly, the weird, and death itself hold valuable currency—even among the chickens whose heads Crystal Lil, early in her professional life, bit off.
Al fondly recalls to his children, ‘When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets, she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.’
Geek Love is a cruel joke turned into a sensitive novel, but a sensitive novel played for laughs.
“…a few stumbles in a high-wire act such as Dunn’s only further enthrall the customers. Like most great novels, this one keeps the reader marveling at the daring of the author. Geek Love may offend; it may repulse; in doing so, however, it speaks directly to what it means to be human.”
–Ken Kalfus, The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 19, 1989