2007: #127 – Geek Love (Katherine Dunn)

13911734 Book #127 was Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.  The back of the book reads:

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.

This is one of those books that I suspect caused quite a bit of buzz when it was released, but I’d never heard of it — probably because I was only 11. I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I started… A book about carny freaks is one thing, a book about carny freaks who purposefully produce children with physical defects is quite another. And oh, what those children do! As ridiculous as it may seem to think of someone voluntarily cutting off parts of their body in devotion to a (cult) leader, you know there’s enough crazy people in the world for it to be plausible.

Oly ends up being such an unexpectedly touching character, and definitely the strongest of them all.

I don’t think there’s a better way to depict the tone of this book and the twistedness than to post an excerpt.

In Oly’s voice: "I was born three years after my sisters. My father spared no expense in these experiments. My mother had been liberally dosed with cocaine, amphetamines, and arsenic during her ovulation and throughout her pregnancy with me. It was a disappointment when I emerged with such commonplace deformities. My albinism is the regular pink-eyed variety and my hump, though pronounced, is not remarkable in size or shape as humps go. My situation was far too humdrum to be marketable on the same scale as my brother’s and sisters’……The dwarfism, which was very apparent by my third birthday, came as a pleasant surprise to the patient pair and increased my value."

Page count: 348 | Approximate word count: 137,832

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