Geek Love by Katherine Dunn — New Review

Geek Love is the weirdest book I’ve ever read. Michael, who lent it to me, claims that is exactly what he wanted, so already in this review I’ve made one person happy. Geek Love isn’t about the kind of geek you might find hunched over a computer. Instead, ‘geek’ in the novel means a circus performer who bites the heads of live birds. If that strikes you as darkly funny, then you may agree with Katherine Dunn, who is surprised and intrigued that anyone else would carry on reading it1. I don’t find absurdity inherently funny, so while I found individual sentences to be funny, I wouldn’t class Geek Love as a comedy. With its focus on deformity, both natural and self-inflicted, there’s no arguing that Geek Love deals with the darker sides of human nature.

The truth is always an insult or a joke. Lies are generally tastier. We love them. The nature of lies is to please. Truth has no concern for anyone’s comfort.

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

While the weird, dark, disturbing aspects of Geek Love are presented with a light enough touch that they’re not off-putting, they weren’t why I was reading. As is often the case, I was most interested in the characters. The opening of the book, with its focus on the shocking (or hysterical) nature of the Binewski family, didn’t pull me in. It wasn’t until Katherine Dunn presented Olympia’s interaction with her daughter Miranda that I was convinced I would carry on. I was rewarded with more than enough fascinating characters and relationships, the first and foremost of which is unquestionably Arturo Binewski. For a large portion of the book, everything revolves around Arturo, and the events of the narrative just get weirder and weirder. Unusually, I think Geek Love’s strongest section is the middle, with the beginning and the end feeling somewhat lacklustre in comparison.

It was becoming apparent that Chick himself had only one ambition and that was to help everybody so much that they would love him.

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

I spent a lot of time before writing this review thinking about what genre I would categorise Geek Love as, and what other novels I’ve read it might fit in with. Since I didn’t personally find it funny, I decided that it most closely resembles magical realism. If you love the picaresque narrator of The Tin Drum, or the metafictional narrative of The Moor’s Last Sigh, then it’s possible Geek Love has something about it you’ll adore.

Next, I’ll be reading Dread Nation by Justina Ireland.

Rating: 3 out of 5.