Author: Katherine Dunn
# Pages: 370
Date Published: 1989
5-Star Rating: 5
Would you recommend it?: Yes
When I first picked up Geek Love, I thought I would be reading a love story about two computer geniuses. To a certain extent, I was right. Geek Love is a beautiful love story, but it has nothing to do with computers; instead, the term “geek” refers to a person who bites the heads off of chickens in a carnival side-show. Its 370 pages depict gory amputations, experimental drug use, telekinetic incest and dozens more unsettling scenarios. To say the book was shocking would be a gross understatement. But, in the two days it took me to read, I couldn’t put it down.
The book is narrated by Olympia Binewski, who tells the tale of her parents, Crystal Lil and Aloysius Binewski, who once owned a traveling carnival. The pair, desperate to drum up business after many of their carny workers abandon them, decide to create their own band of side-show freaks. Crystal Lil takes various drugs and exposes herself to radioactive chemicals all to successfully give birth to a slew of freakish children. Arturo, their oldest son, has flippers for arms and legs. Their daughter Olympia is a hunchback albino dwarf. Fortunato has telekinetic powers, and Electra and Iphigenia are Siamese twins. This family forms their own side-show of freaks. The story continues, focusing on Arturo, who starts a cult where he convinces “normal people” to cut off their limbs, and on Olympia and her relationship with her daughter.
The premise is as weird and creepy as it sounds, but the story that arises from it is just as extraordinary. Through Olympia’s narration, we see a dysfunctional family of supposed freaks face the same issues as more traditional families. The desire to be loved and valued, familial jealousy, familial loyalty and the search for identity, all recognizable in our own lives, are woven throughout the shocking and beautiful tale. In reading Olympia’s account of her astonishing life, we as readers begin to reconsider how we comprehend what’s “normal,” what’s beautiful, and how we perceive differences in our fellow human beings. Amidst the grotesque imagery, Geek Love forces us to reevaluate ourselves; perhaps we aren’t as normal as we would like to think.
Review by Lauren Shlacks, A&S ' 16