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Geek Love Hardcover – March 11, 1989

492 customer reviews

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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 (492 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,161 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

315 of 333 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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138 of 154 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 73 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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Erin on January 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am still wrestling with my feelings about this book. I loved the first half. Obviously the premise is disturbing and twisted but Dunn somehow managed to make it feel realistic and natural in context. She is an exceptional writer when she wants to be. The description of the Fabulon and the Binewski silbings' childhood is the highlight because it was wonderfully imaginative and it had heart.

I cannot pinpoint exactly where in the story my feelings about the book changed although it was somewhere after the halfway mark. I know when I realized it though. My boyfriend asked me a question while I was reading and I nearly bit his head off. I apologized and said, "This book is just such so toxic it is putting me in an awful mood."

Bascially the book lost its heart. The author kept piling on one cruel and disgusting event on top of another. It did not feel natural, it did not feel like it had a greater purpose it just felt very pushed. I couldn't shake the feeling that the author was more interested in demonstrating her daring and how far she was willing to go rather than writing a good story. Pushing the envelope can be great if it is done in a thought-provoking and carefully crafted manner. However, it is a fine line and if you go too far too often the shock value is gone, the goodwill is gone and you are just left with a huge pile of garbage. I think the book reached this point and it made me angry because after the first half of the book I had high expectations. Pain is a major theme through the book but any higher point Dunn was trying to make about the nature of pain the second half (if there was one) got lost in the muck.

Towards the end my bad feelings began to soften a bit.
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