Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn (1989)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 2 Pierogies

Review: I believe originality is a virtue that should be recognized and celebrated and Geek Love excels in this regard. If you are one of those people, like myself, who watch the TLC shows about the quests of the morbidly obese to get laid, the tree man, the woman with 200 pound legs and people with disfiguring tumors this book may have a certain appeal. Typically, after indulging my sick curiosities by watching a TLC show documenting the misery of another human being, I inevitably feel an overwhelming weight of shame which is pretty much how I felt upon completing Geek Love. The premise of Geek Love involves a couple who purposely conceive children with physical deformities in order to populate the freak show of their traveling carnival. Clearly this premise is disturbing and twisted but Dunn somehow managed to make it feel realistic and natural in context at first. I actually really enjoyed the first half of the book describing Fabulon and the Binewski siblings' childhood because it was well-written, imaginative and managed to have some heart and sweetness despite the sick context in a bizarre sort of way.

About halfway through the book everything changed. I was laying on the couch reading when Boyfriend asked me how I was doing and I nearly bit his head off. Why? Well, I realized that Geek Love had transformed into a toxic piece of poo that had seeped into my circulatory system thus polluting my heart and mind. Dunn had commenced piling on one cruel and disgusting event on top of another; truly sick stuff that did not seem to have a greater purpose other than to challenge the reader's gag reflex. I couldn't shake the feeling that the Dunn was more interested in demonstrating her daring and how far she was willing to go to rather than writing a good story. Pushing the envelope can be great if it is done with purpose 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. Pain is a major theme through the book and if Dunn's intention was to inflict as much pain on her readers as possible she may be a genius afterall but I still want to punch her in the face. She is undeniably a very imaginative and talented writer. Technically the book was more than competent; but the content of this book became truly nauseating.

At first I was shocked and appalled to learn that Geek Love was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989 then I realized that the National Book Award is probably awarded by a committee of godforsaken pretentious hippies so it makes sense. From me this book gets 2 Perogies, a bottle of dramamine and trip to the Confessional.

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