Geek Love – Katherine Dunn

Rating: 5 stars
Shelf: Reading Now

Not at all what its title implies – even when you find out exactly what Katherine Dunn means by Geek. Should have been called Freak Love, but I think the mystery and the – “Oh my god, this isn’t about two nerds falling in love?” is half the attraction.

Concerning a traveling carnival whose acts were bred instead of hired – the story is told by Olympia Binewski, a bald, albino, hunchback dwarf and the youngest daughter of Lil and Al Binewski. Olympia records her memories of the freak family – which included a boy with fins, Siamese twins, a telekinetic, and a host of baby experiments gone bad and preserved in jars – so that her daughter, Miranda, might one day understand not only why Olympia had to give her up, but also why Miranda is so special.

The book focuses on freak as norm and norm as freak. The reversal not only aids in highlighting familial relationships, but also, and more importantly, shines a light on the problems with social constructs and cult-like, follower, behavior. For one – the Binewskis seem to value their more messed up children higher than those who could pass for “normal.” Olympia is told that she herself is barely a keeper, though she meets none of the standards of normal in our culture.

Dunn was, apparently, influenced by the events of Jonestown at the time she was writing this book. Having just read Raven by Tim Reitermann, I was really drawn to these comparisons and their power over all of the characters – both immediate and secondary. Arty – the boy with fins instead of hands and feet – forms a cult that is strangely reminiscent of The People’s Temple. Jones’ followers gave up their entire lives for him, cut themselves off from their worldly possessions to follow Jones to the promise land – Arty’s followers gave up their limbs, quite literally, to become more like him and to be able to shake societal norms and become their most pure.

But mostly, I just loved the characters and the language. The Binewskis, for all their troubles, are an incredibly close family who rely on their differences to keep them safe and keep them together. There were moments when Dunn painted such a beautiful, emotional – and normal – scene – especially those which depicted Olympia interacting lovingly with her siblings- I was moved practically to tears.

The future of my reading endeavors for 2011 seems so bleak, now that I’ve already read what will most likely be my favorite book of the year.

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