From a couple of years ago…
Book Review: Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
I was on an annual hunt for a scary read (not my normal read, and I don’t know the genre), and Geek Love was on every list I looked at. I’m afraid of the truly scary, but this came with a promise of disturbing oddity – just what I was looking for – so I picked it up.
I have to say that there is a truly creepy tone to the book, like something has burrowed under your skin. The story centers on a family with parents who feel that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is a marketable freak-show deformity. It’s out of love then that Pa shoots Ma up with all kinds of nefarious dope while she’s pregnant in hopes of giving birth to ‘freaks.’ Some babies don’t live, and they’re put in jars where patrons of the show pay to peer at them. Those who survive work the show and contribute to this truly odd family. Each has a deformity, and just like Marilynn Munster, the most normal are the least respected. Aqua Boy, with fins instead of arms, is most special.
The writing is engaging. And, like the flamboyant and proud freaks, the prose is never dull and always witty. But the story didn’t carry me as I expected. Once the novelty of conjoined twins and children stored in formaldehyde wears off, the reader is left with a normal-ish story of families and relationships. But – make no bones about it – the story is creepy. Author Katherine Dunn takes everything dark, everything hidden, and everything feared and shines the full light of the sun on them after setting them all on the podium. The reader -me – squirms.
The book is a good read and worthy of any Halloween list. An advance review by Kirkus likened the book to ‘a collaboration between John Irving and David Lynch,’ and I think that’s spot on. I had the same weird and uncomfortable feeling reading Geek Love as I did watching Lynch’s Eraser Head: nothing really frightening, but just plain weird, like seeing something I’m not supposed to, which is exactly why we read these books. Just to show what I know, the book was a finalist for a National Book Award. Also, the book was published in 1989, and I wonder now, some thirty years later, if it might offend or trigger certain readers. In times past, this was a badge to be held high – any fame is good fame – but we are more sensitive now, or more squeamish, or more afraid, and there are definite things here that might startle any normal human reader.
Overall a good read for the coming season. Especially for David Lynch fans.
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