If You Can Stomach It.


The book club selection for the month of October was Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It was my first suggestion to the group. Although after our meeting and hearing everyone’s responses I may be banned from making suggestions for a while.
I’d first heard about Katherine Dunn while researching Portland area authors for an art project. I discovered she’d been in the news, not for a raving book review, or teaching; she’d been involved in a violent altercation outside of a grocery store. A young woman approached the, then 64 year-old Dunn outside the NW Trader Joe’s and attempted to steal her purse. Dunn refused to let go. In an effort to make a getaway with Dunn’s purse, the young thief slapped Dunn across the face. Dunn, who made her career writing ground breaking material about boxing, who also, to this day boxes herself, seized the opportunity to defend herself, punching the punk thief in the face.  I said to myself: “That’s my kind of woman.”
 It was more convincing than a traditional book review.
I was holding the electric orange covered book in my arms, wandering the stacks at Powell’s Books in Beaverton when an employee stopped and asked:
“Is that Geek Love in your hands?”
“Yes.”
“It’s great, but it is twisted. Seriously it’s F***CKED up.” She laughs. Initially her comment seemed slightly sarcastic. In hindsight, the truth is I assumed I could handle anything this little book could deliver. I thought I was ready.
“If you end up liking it you should read…” the employee mentions another author and book I’ve never heard of and after finishing Geek Love, I’m unsure if I want to remember who it was she suggested.
 “Geek Love is really good, but it’s weird. Y’know she’s local?” the woman adds.
 “I know. I heard she was local.” I thank her for the information. I go back to browsing. I was really curious now. I was so excited when I left the book store I drove straight to a park to read in the grass.
 In a nutshell the work explores issues associated with the nuclear family. Geek Love is the story of a tight knit family of carnival freaks starring an albino, hunchback, dwarf middle daughter named Olly, who is the narrator, the eldest son Artie (a boy with fins instead of arms and legs, rendering his body nearly useless outside of water), a pair of Siamese twins named Elly and Iphy, and the youngest son nicknamed Chick, who only appears normal, but has metaphysical powers. All these children were born to normal parents, who “customized” their intentionally freakish children through drug experimentation.
            When your entire world is defined by the monetary value of your unusual physical appearance, one’s self-worth becomes skewed. When your siblings are the only other people in the world as “unique” as you are, rivalry doesn’t begin to cover it. Those with the least physical power grow to use mental manipulation to gain control. Those gifted with the abilities to manipulate the physical world, use their power to possessively protect the family’s way of life (no matter how destructive or detrimental that way of life might be from the outsider’s perspective).
Upon entering any theme park ride: a haunted house, roller coaster or otherwise, pregnant women and those suffering of heart conditions are encouraged to turn away. Soon to be added to that list is Geek Love. Not for the faint of heart, defiantly not for the easily offended; a word of caution is certainly necessary. Thirty pages into the novel I caught myself saying “What the F**k” aloud at the end of nearly every paragraph. I screamed: “No!” My voice whispered in disbelief an: “Oh my God…” at the conclusion of each chapter, where I then allowed myself a long break before continuing.
Although I had to stop regularly, to absorb, digest, and reassure myself nothing would be regurgitated; I finished. Maybe this makes me a mildly twisted freak too; but, I had an impulse to finish. Despite the journey feeling less than comfortable, or familiar, or enjoyable, in the end I was absolutely satisfied. It was a sweat-inducing, chill giving, challenge in content served in a precisely executed package of repulsively addictive language.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it to everyone. No, I should. I’d rather own up to the fact that I did indeed find pleasure in and a little love for the unsettling work: Geek Love.
            

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