So, a book outside of any reading club or challenge. How exciting!
John Warner, the Biblioracle over at The Morning News, recommended this to me. This was his second recommendation, the first being the wildly life-changing Gravity’s Rainbow. This is not Gravity’s Rainbow. Geek Love is not, for me, a life-changing novel. Perhaps it is for some – but I grew up (wow, I can actually get away with saying that, kind of) with Chuck Palahniuk novels. Nothing is going to repulse me after “Guts” – at least, nothing I want to be reading, anyway.
To give her credit, Katherine Dunn’s novel came out before Palahniukian nihilism was all the rage (before he started pasticheing himself), before torture porn, before all of that. And she does a remarkable job at really showing the reader a… well, a freakish side of life. Carnivals are inherently kind of creepy-icky-don’t-wanna-go-there things – I always think of that old b&w horror film… The Freaks, I think its called. Well, this is that sort of novels. A couple who run a traveling carnival decide to use a vile cocktail of drugs and isotopes and other shit to create a family of oddballs. Two sons and two/three daughters survive and the Binewski Family is born. Arturo, The Aqua Boy, is a meglomanical nutjob with flippers for arms while Olympia is an albino hunchback…. the Siamese twins Iphigenia and Electra have two upper bodies… but fuse in the stomach area into one lower body…. and then Chick, who is a telepath.
The whole story is told from Oly’s point of view and for whatever reason – perhaps through mentioning it rather often – you are constantly reminded that your narrator is an albino dwarf with a hunchback. This has an alternately fascinating and alienating effect. Also, there are some interesting chronological jumps that don’t entirely make sense until near the end – but when they do come together, I was actually a little disappointed. The ending just seemed wrong to me. It didn’t feel right, something was off. Miss Lick, I guess, reminded Oly of Arty and the Arturans and she messed with Oly’s daughter but that just doesn’t quite seem to link up in my mind with what happens.
The story leading up to all this, the story in the past, is doggedly engrossing. There were, yes, times that I found myself grimacing a little bit at the out-and-out freaky nature of the characters, the story, the action. Arty founds a cult, basically, where people get bits and pieces of their bodies removed until eventually they’re nothing more than torso and head…. and its creepy as fuck. Seriously, it is mind-bogglingly creepy. Then, there’s the Bag Man – who is possibly one of the most revolting characters ever put onto a page. In my mind’s eye camera-view, I could only ever see him in the blurriest sense because my mind would not let me picture him any clearer. That’s how fucked up this guy is/was/whatever.
Despite all of the not-normal attributes of the family, however, there are still the familial themes that call to all of us. I think what resonated most strongly with me is watching the power of the carnival move from the parents to Arty (and, by default, the rest of the kids). Things I think about right now, watching the power of my life shift from my parents to me… knowing that in the future, it’s going to be me responsible for them and not the other way round.
So yes, this book definitely had a relateability factor to it – don’t be turned off by the fact that its about a family of carnie freaks. We’re just norms to them, anyway.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A good book – a good, solid recommendation from the Biblioracle. I enjoyed it, despite finding some parts hard to get through. It really only came off the rails in the last fifty pages or so. Even the end of the carnival is just something of a surprising copout. Everything leading up to that, however – no matter how disturbing or freaky – was well worth the read.