Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

I finished the book Geek Love a couple of days ago, and I’ve sort of tried to structure my thoughts. I have a bookshelf on Goodreads called “Completely fucking weird” and it currently holds two books; the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, and Geek Love, not that you can compare them necessarily.

The plot
The story is told by Olympia Binewski, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, who grew up in a travelling carnival. She is the third living child, or fourth, depending on how you see it, of Al and Lilith Binewski. They run a freak show, and at one point Al realizes that people aren’t showing up anymore, because it’s not freaky enough… So he and his wife decide to make their own freaks. So Lilith goes on a drug regimen and they create Arturo, a boy with flippers and webbed feet and hands, Elly and Iphy, Siamese twins, Oly, the dwarf, and the Chick (real name Fortunato), who is telekinetic. They also obviously lose a lot of babies, who they keep in mason jars, on display, because of course. So the story follows the children’s youth, and their show, and the weird cult around Arturo. And the story is also interspersed with the present time where Olympia is watching over her 20-year-old daughter, Miranda.

So I don’t know what to think about this book. There are too many things.

It sort of made me feel sick. Because it’s a story of parents who willingly and deliberately make children with disabilities, or things that set them apart. They do this from a place of… love, I guess, they want to give their children something to live off of, and they want them to be unique. They also love their children unconditionally, but what they do ultimately leads to their downfall. They make their kids see what others would see as disability or a problem, as almost a superpower.

I liked Oly, sort of. I mean you sort of have to like her, she is to a certain degree the kindest of the children. Despite being a bald, hunchbacked, albino dwarf she is also the least extraordinary of the Binewski children. Arturo has his own show, as aqua boy, the twins are beautiful Siamese twins who play piano, a four hander, and dazzle the world, the Chick doesn’t have a show, but he is telekinetic. So Oly doesn’t really have anything, but she is loved. She takes care of her siblings, she loves them, and she sometimes does the announcing at the shows. She is misguided in some ways. She knows what Arturo is doing, I’ll get back to it, but she loves him so much that she is willing to forgive everything he does. He’s completely fucking psycho, and she forgives him, no matter what. It made me angry, because their parents don’t see what Arty is doing and they don’t try to stop it, and Oly sees everything, and she just lets him go on. On the other hand, what can she do? The answer is; nothing. But she doesn’t even try. And it made me furious. She’s so enthralled to him, like his followers, and it fucking annoyed me. I love her, and I love the dynamic, but oh GOD. I love frustrating characters and relationships.

I thought it was an interesting look on how we see “freaks” and people with disabilities, or people who are different. Obviously people come to see Arty and the twins because they’re different and it’s weird. Because Arturo has this show as aqua boy, where he swims and does swim-y, stuff. Eventually he starts talking to his audience, and he is an amazing orator. He talks to them and answers questions about life. Then it evolves into preaching, and turning his show into a religion, almost, or a cult at least. People start wanting to be like him, and he feels like he can free them by chopping their limbs off, which is weird. And that really freaked me out. It’s such a weird cult, and such a weird thing to want. And it’s an excellent way to describe a religion. Because these people are literally sacrificing their bodies, offering up parts of themselves to be taken into Arty’s good graces. It’s so sick. And they think they’re reaching a higher level or whatever, and then they’re completely dependent on novices of the faith. It’s so fucked.

Arty is creepy, and cruel, and a complete psychopath. Well not complete, he loves Iphy. He will not have anyone be better and more loved than him, he needs to be the focus, he needs to be the best. He is horrible. He tries to kill his brother, yeah. He obsessively counts the ticket stubs and when his sisters sell more tickets he sulks and rages and it’s sort of scary. He takes over the carnival almost without anyone noticing, and suddenly he just rules the joint. It’s so creepy. I really hated him. I shouldn’t hate people, but I hate him. I feel like he doesn’t really have any redeeming qualities either. He starts being loving towards his brother, but it’s because he wants to use him.

I also thought the present day story was incredible. It was also cruel and uncomfortable. Olympia’s daughter has a tail, and in Olympia’s eyes this is great, her daughter is different, and weird and interesting. To Miranda this is a problem, because she wants to be normal. Miranda is approached by a woman, Mary Lick, who wants to pay her to remove her tail. Olympia doesn’t like this, and befriends Mary Lick, only to discover that Mrs. Lick takes beautiful women with a lot of intellectual potential and pays them exorbitant amounts of money to disfigure them so that they will focus on their intellectual potential, and they won’t be hampered by their beauty. It’s interesting to see how this woman just decides that these women are brilliant, and that they have to do what she thinks and she thinks she knows best. It was disturbing to see how she used her power, a power she got through money. It was disturbing to see how she thought she was somehow saving them by disfiguring their faces and destroying their bodies and it made me physically uncomfortable.

It was weird, it was creepy, it was confusing, and gross, and I loved it. It was so good.