» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

April 29, 2010
RATING: 7/10

Moment of truth: Katherine Dunn's Geek Love was recommended to me by an attractive boy. "I'm obsessed with this book," he told me, "and I think you'll be obsessed with it too." I took in his long and unkempt brown hair and the two big brown pools of his eyes as he said this. "I… will… love… this… book," I may as well have droned back.

As it turned out, I liked Geek Love a whole lot. It kept me riveted through a week of long train rides to and from work and evening hours spent with a glass of red wine. But I didn't love it. It's a powerful book, and I'm still piecing together why it didn't affect me as much as it was supposed to.

Geek Love has two storylines, both of which follow an albino hunchback dwarf* named Olympia Binewski at different points in her life. When the book opens, the reader finds Oly living in a rundown boardinghouse managed by her mother, the blind and mentally unstable Crystal Lil. The tenant upstairs--a beautiful college student by the name of Miranda--dances at a club where she successfully fetishizes a small "tail" extending from the bottom of her spine. Miranda, who is studying to be a medical illustrator, has an eye for the physically unique and is fascinated by Oly. The young lady repeatedly invites the older woman up to her apartment to be sketched, completely unaware that she shares a deeper connection with her most fascinating subject.

The other major storyline surrounds Olympia's upbringing. As it turns out, her carnivalist parents experimented with various substances during Lil's pregnancies to ensure that their children would be born "special," thereby populating the family's freak show. At first this storyline focuses on fairly typical family drama, but eventually it escalates into a tumultuous and disturbing narrative about the abuse of power.

Dunn is a masterful storyteller, and the best aspect of her book is the way it is written; Geek Love is told by Olympia in the first-person. We learn that as a child, Oly is trained by her father to be a carnival barker, and as an adult she makes her living reading stories on the radio. To the author's credit, Oly sounds exactly as she should. The strength of her voice carries events forward, lending them an air of enchantment and otherworldliness appropriate to the plot. Geek Love is worth reading for the storytelling alone.

Which is why it isn't terribly disappointing that the plot develops in an unfortunate way, with Dunn taking advantage of her alluring prose and the engaging voice of her main character. While the book at first seems a subtly crafted story anchored firmly in the themes of family and uniqueness, events build up until they reach a pitch on par with a soap opera. Nothing subtle about the Arturan cult, whose members cut off their extremities to be more like Arturo, their leader. Nothing subtle about the end to the carnival plot, or the end of the book itself.

Dunn's writing carries the plot along, though, and I was willing to suspend my disbelief even when she took too many liberties. By no means is Dunn incapable of a metaphor or a tastily complex analogy, and in fact every now and then a brilliant curlicue rears its head from the murky goings-on. As a whole, however, Geek Love is too heavy-handed. At some point it stops addressing its central themes, and Dunn seems instead to delight in just how much of a nightmare she can convince us of. Luckily for the reader, she's awfully persuasive.

* Terms such as "dwarf" are occasionally employed by Dunn in the text, and are thusly used in context and are meant with no offense.

Julia Rose Roberts

See other articles by Julia Rose Roberts.



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