Geek Love

Geek Love
 Katherine Dunn
1989
Read by Christina Moore

Otherwise known as “Most Deceptive Cover Ever!”
I’m reading this with my ears because I had a traumatic experience trying to read it last time. I picked it up once in middle school, thinking that this was a lighthearted romantic comedy about nerds. Oh no, I was very wrong.

Its about an bald albino dwarf, child of a circus family who engineered their own freaks by having mom take various medications. We spend time in the past with her circus family, and in the present where she follows around her grown daughter: a beautiful college girl going to school for medical illustrating who is perfectly normal except for having a tail. As the plot progresses, lovely themes of disfigurement, sadism, incest, cults, murder, mind-bending, fetish stripping and nuns congeal into a thick brew of Crazy.

Intriguing, you say? Sounds like a good time? This book only makes me angrier and angrier the more I read with my ears. Here I was, silly me, under the mistaken impression that the point of writing about side show freaks and other oddities is to rehumanize them–to make them more believable as people instead of just mysteries of science. Instead Dunn takes the other route: she takes us on a novelistic side show, where she blasts us with one shocking action, person, places and things after another until none of the motivations of the characters are believable and their personalities are as two dimensional as their circus posters.

For example: Arty. After the initial engineering children to become freaks thing is over, the book meanders into a “What Now?” kind of crux. When Dunn finally settles on a main theme, it is not about the main character or her stripping, pigtailed daughter, but her brother, Arturo the Aquaboy. He was born without limbs long enough to be useful… his arms are only long enough to be called “flippers.” The first born who swims in a tank pretending to be a merman is a sociopath, whose bitter little soul only wants to rule his family and denigrate the “Norms”. Arty stumbles upon the chance to make a cult. An audience member cries out that she wants to be like him because he is so much wiser because of his disability, and suddenly he’s toting Arturians around, desperate fools that lop off their toes and limbs to reach enlightenment. Repulsive? Yes. Believable? No.

Maybe I have an unrealistically positive view of humanity, but I just have a hard time accepting that a 10000 member cult can be running around America, paying dues and disfiguring themselves to disability without anyone caring: not the cities they live in, not the audiences or the circus folk. In fact, no negative reaction to any of the weird and frightening things that go on. I know they are enured to the strange, but come on: feeding cast off limbs from human Arturians to the wild cats, or even farming flies in the decaying remains. A little immoral, right? Anyone? Anyone?

The worst part is Arty, though. Its not like he’s planning it. Every decision is willy nilly, like he’s making it up as he goes along. He’s just short of a sociopath. He has rule over the whole family and he has no interest in their feelings. Dunn makes a paltry stab at making him a full character by making him feel guilty and even love someone. But the love is an infantile love and it doesn’t excuse anything.

The infuriating flatness is even worse with the rest of the main characters. The good ones–Geek Mother Lil, Siamese twin Iphigenia, and normal but telekinetic simpering youngest brother Fortunato or Chick–are good to the point of simpletons. Siamese twin Electra is supposed to be street-smart and is only crass. Olympia the albino narrator is passive to the point of aggravation. I find it ironic that a story about a marginalized community is so misogynistic. The women are of the enduring, simpering, conventionally feminine kind. Freaks are treated like monsters. People with facial disfigurements are accentuated as feeling-less beings. The one that really annoyed me was the woman called Lick. Ms. Lick is the woman that wants to cut off Myranda’s tail. She is a large, sexless woman that’s only pleasure in life is finding beautiful disadvantaged women and disfiguring them so they can go on to achieve great things. A prostitute goes on to be a successful chemist, free to study now that her face is blighted by burns. That sort of thing. We spend a lot of time focusing on her fat ass, a clear tactic to disgust us. Yeah, that’s what I like to see.

Which brings to me my last rant: the philosophies. I have SUCH a hard time with this freeing women thing. “Women are held back by the approbation of men. I take away their beauty so they can do great things.” What the hell. Like every hot chick is a rocket scientist waiting to get out. What about ridicule of others when you are ugly? What about all those ugly chicks that AREN’T rocket scientists, huh? I just hate the simplification of a very complicated problem.

So anyway, I’m almost done and I am excited to get this thing over with. I only have one disc left and there are a lot of plots to be tied up. I must say that is compells me to keep reading.. if only out of the kind of disgust that comes with watching a car accident.

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