Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

My first review! Since being invited to post here, I have been hesitant to do so. Everyone has such great posts and mine feel so simple in comparison. But here's hoping you get something out of it! And that it's not too long...

I'm not sure what I expected from Geek Love, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around how I felt about it. The overall concept is intriguing. A couple working in a carnival decide to create their own family of freaks by experimenting with drug cocktails and pills. Their first son is nothing more than a torso with fins. Next are the Siamese twins. Third they have the albino hunchback dwarf (Olympia, who for all intents and purposes, is the narrator), and finally there is Chick: the one they almost left by a gas station in some small town off the trail of their tour. In between were the ones who didn't make it and are kept in jars in their various stages of life. The kids take turns, along with their mother, cleaning the glass and making them shine.

The outcome of their experiment surpasses even Al and Lil's expectations, and not necessarily for the best. A religious obsession begins to form around Arturo the Aqua Boy. With cult-like fanaticism people begin following the carnival from town to town, rest homes rise up as people lose their limbs and can no longer travel. Followers beg for the opportunity to be operated on by Arty's personal doctor, to lose a toe or foot and more until they are nothing more than a torso like Arty. But what is he teaching them? That to truly value life and appreciate yourself you need a deformity? If you already feel like you're different, you may as well show people how different you are?

Despite their issues I loved these characters. From Arty's megalomania and the twins' vain jealousy to shy Oly the dwarf. And Chick. Especially Chick. To say anything about what made Chick special would be to ruin the book. It's a mystery to even the reader until about halfway through.

In tying up loose ends Dunn explores further, through a newer character, how perfection can be your downfall. That to truly experience what the world has to offer and to live up to your potential, it is essential to take away everything that makes you good. Miss Lick shows Oly a slew of people that she has helped. Miss Lick, being fairly "norm" herself, has turned beauties into monsters in an effort to let them live a life of productivity. A prostitute can be a doctor, a stripper an astrophysicist, if only they can lose the one thing keeping them in their current life. To gain everything, you have to lose everything. Or at least that's what Miss Lick would have you believe. In the end, though, Miss Lick loses everything and gains nothing and the lesson is taught by the most unlikely of teachers.

I think I really loved this book. Yes, think. It was disturbing and creepy and it almost feels wrong to say that I enjoyed it. The characters and the world they inhabit were created so beautifully that despite how unsavory everything was it was impossible to put down. The life they led was so incestuous and perverse, but based on how they were created anything else would have seemed unnatural. When it ended I longed for an epilogue, to know the reactions of the characters left behind. But as it was, the ending was perfect and right.

2 comments:

Jane Steen said...

Hi Megan, I'm also a new reviewer yet to post that first review. So you're ahead of me at least! I thought your review was fine - in my experience some of the reviews are very polished, some are very simple, and many others fall somewhere in between. I think that reviewing for an audience takes practice and we'll both improve as we go along. I hope some of the "veterans" will give us tips on what a great review looks like! Keep 'em coming.

Leigh Russell said...

I'm quite a novice myself but I thought this review was fascinating. The book sounds a bit weird, but interesting.