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Geek Love Hardcover – March 11, 1989

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Editorial Reviews Review

A wild, often horrifying, novel about freaks, geeks and other aberrancies of the human condition who travel together (a whole family of them) as a circus. It's a solipsistic funhouse world that makes "normal" people seem bland and pitiful. Arturo the Aqua-Boy, who has flippers and an enormous need to be loved. A museum of sacred monsters that didn't make it. An endearing "little beetle" of a heroine. Sort of like Tod Browning's Freaks crossed with David Lynch and John Irving and perhaps George Eliot -- the latter for the power of the emotions evoked.

From Publishers Weekly

This audacious, mesmerizing novel should carry a warning: "Reader Beware." Those entering the world of carnival freaks described by narrator Olympia Binewski, a bald, humpbacked albino dwarf, will find no escape from a story at once engrossing and repellent, funny and terrifying, unreal and true to human nature. Dunn's vivid, energetic prose, her soaring imagination and assured narrative skill fuse to produce an unforgettable tale. The premise is bizarre. Art and Lily, owners of Binewski's Fabulon, a traveling carnival, decide to breed their own freak show by creating genetically altered children through the use of experimental drugs. "What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?" muses Lily. Eventually their family consists of Arty, aka Arturo the Aqua Boy, born with flippers instead of limbs, who performs swimming inside a tank and soon learns how to manipulate his audience; Electra and Iphigenia, Siamese twins and pianists; the narrator, Oly; and Fortunato, also called the Chick, who seems normal at birth, but whose telekinetic powers become apparent just as his brokenhearted parents are about to abandon him. More than anatomy has been altered. Arty is a monsterpower hungry, evil, malicious, consumed by "dark, bitter meanness and . . . jagged rippling jealousy." Yet he has the capacity to inspire adoration, especially that of Oly, who is his willing slave, and who arranges to bear his child, Miranda, who appears "norm," but has a tiny tail. A spellbinding orator, Arty uses his ability to establish a religious cult, in which he preaches redemption through the sacrifice of body partsdigits and limbs."I want the losers who know they're losers. I want those who have a choice of tortures and pick me." This raw, shocking view of the human condition, a glimpse of the tormented people who live on the fringe, makes readers confront the dark, mad elements in every society. After a hiatus of almost two decades, the author of Attic and Truck has produced a novel that everyone will be talking about, a brilliant, suspenseful, heartbreaking tour de force.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 347 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (March 11, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394569024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394569024
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (465 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Katherine Dunn is an award-winning boxing journalist whose work has appeared in many publications, including Esquire, KO Magazine, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Playboy, The Ring, Sports Illustrated, and Vogue. She is the author of three novels, including Geek Love, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2004, Dunn and photographer Jim Lommasson won the Lange-Taylor Documentary Prize for their work on the book Shadow Boxers. She is currently associate editor of, an internet boxing encyclopedia and magazine. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

310 of 328 people found the following review helpful By lizvelrene on June 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
I couldn't put this book down, and carried it around for about a week, deeply and happily immersed. But, just for comparison, when I showed it to my boyfriend and he read the back cover, he physically recoiled and hastily handed it back to me. Funnily enough, he enjoys true-crime books/programs, and I can't stand the things. I think it's the same impulse though: we feel that these things, though repulsive to many, have things to teach us about human nature. With that in mind, I have to commend Katherine Dunn for a very well written, memorable, and thought-provoking book -- with the disclaimer it is absolutely not for everyone.
Basically, if you are armed with the knowledge that the book is about a family of circus freaks (including a fish-boy with no real limbs, siamese twins, and an albino dwarf, all purposely bred for birth defects with the use of drugs and radiation), and you are assured that ***it only gets worse from there***, and you still find yourself curious, then for goodness sake go out and get the book right now, because it delivers everything you would want except perhaps for a happy ending.
While I find writers like Chuck Palanuik and Bret Easton Ellis to be smug and shallow (there goes my reviewer rating!) I find them to be the only comparison to this book for actual shock value. I can't remember the last time I was actually shocked, not disturbed but shocked, at a book, and without being inclined to throw it out the window. The amount of humanity and vibrancy in these characters despite their ugly and often cruel natures kept me riveted. Highly recommended, for those with strong stomachs.
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136 of 152 people found the following review helpful By Schtinky VINE VOICE on September 19, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It was Douglas E. Winter who said, "Horror is not a genre, it is an emotion." With that bold and all-too-true statement ringing in your ears, I will tell you that "Geek Love" is a horror story. The protagonists are not simply trapped by their physical deformities, but also by their own familial love and the malevolent manipulation from one who is of them.

The majority of the story is told by Olympia Binewski, born into a carnival family of intentional freaks. Al and "Crystal Lil" Binewski set about starting their family with one intention; additions to the carnival's attractions. Lily takes illegal drugs, insecticides, and even radioisotopes in order to purposefully "give their children the gift of making money just by being themselves." In other words, they create a family of horribly deformed children, their own freak show.

Arturo, known as Aqua Boy, is the first of their children to survive. He is a torso with flippers for arms and legs. Second born are the Siamese twins Electra and Iphigenia, two perfect torsos rising up from one set of hips and legs, stunningly beautiful despite their deformity. Olympia herself is the third living child, a hunchback albino dwarf, she is considered to be too commonplace to be useful but is kept anyway. The youngest child, Fortunato, called Chick, was almost left on a doorstep for being normal when his telekinetic powers were discovered. Kept in what was called "The Chute", in glass display jars, were the children of Al and Lily that did not live, yet kept as attractions in the Binewski Fabulon Carnival.

Dunn's tale of quiet, creeping horror takes place in two separate time frames, Olympia's childhood with the carnival and a present day encounter with the daughter who doesn't know her.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By D. Movahedpour on December 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Much like its subject matter, the side show "freak", this book can be ugly and disturbing, but it is impossible to turn away. Told from the viewpoint of the bald, Albino, hunchback dwarf daughter of a mother who deliberately took drugs and chemicals to give birth to freaks for the family carnival, the narration can be incredibly calm in the midst of the storm. The parents, who run a freak show and have freak children for fun and profit, have a son with flippers, and daughters who are Siamese twins, and a seemingly normal son who has telekinesis. Katherine Dunn's imagination is frightening. The story runs the gamut from gratuitous violence to incest to rape and murder. I could not wait to finish the book, but once I did, I never wanted to read it again. I was disturbed, confused, intrigued. There are some gaping holes in the story, you have to suspend disbelief, and the concurrent story about the woman who disfigures beautiful women with battery acid is downright chilling. But, it certainly captures your interest. It is unique, and I, personally, had seen nothing of its type before. It's difficult for me to say whether I recommended it. I can only say proceed with caution; it is engrossing and also terribly un-nerving.
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46 of 58 people found the following review helpful By devthen on October 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
How surprised was I to hear some book called Geek Love(?) come so highly recommended, and who'd of ever thought I'd read it?... Then find me thinking, "I'm not finding this as disturbing or shocking as it seems set up to be," enthralled though I am... Apart from it's subject matter GL seemed familiar, similar to other works in several ways: writing style, theme, writer's trickery. Comparisons come easy and are valid. Yet this work stands, for me, very much on it's own, and the reading experience suggests it's greater than the sum of it's parts. Maybe it was a philosophy that hooked me (and then came Fight Club... ), or just some magic that I'm not sharp enough to identify. Eventually I discovered my jaw extended, telling me I could be surprised, that I wasn't immune. Oftentimes it was the complete, complex psychologies that impressed me most, and the work suffered when such details were half-baked. In Geek Love's world we may need to suspend much disbelief, but overall I found Dunn's logic surprisingly intricate. Her storytelling I found very effective, ever captivating, pulling me forward, forward, forward, while her "lyric" prose was there entertaining me throughout. Though I wanted at times to take a break (just to breathe, shake off the obsession,and assess: do I really like this book so incredibly much? do I LOVE this book??), I honestly felt rather powerless to slow down. I was also feeling uncharacteristically co-dependent: wanting everybody to read this book, at least talk to me about it, or ask questions, just please be interested too! please?Read more ›
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