Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
I am going to warn you now that this book is not an easy read. Not because of its choice of words or its style, but it will emotionally and mentally beat you up. I personally love books that make me feel, and this one runs the gamut from rage and disgust to sympathy and empathy. It definitely answers the age old question, “What do you do when your circus side show starts to lose popularity?” (Ok maybe YOU have never thought that, but I’m sure someone out there has), and this book’s answer is, “Breed your own, at what ever costs necessary.” And the Binewski family pays, and pays handsomely (pun intended).
Meet the Binewski family: Al and “Crystal” Lil run a circus… well they did, though over time the traveling circus has lost some appeal, and with exciting new acts being thought up all the time, they needed to think of something that no one could beat. Of all of the possible ideas they could have come up with, they decided that breeding their own freak show would be the most affordable, and likely the most crowd grabbing way to do so. “Crystal” Lil takes different drugs and radioactive materials during her pregnancies and the results are her five surviving children and menagerie of still born, but formaldehyde preserved less viable offspring.
If this hasn’t put you off then keep reading because deep down in the disfigurement there is a very human story. Olympia, the albino hunchback dwarf, writes the story of her childhood, so that her daughter (who doesn’t know she exists) will know where she came from. So the story begins in Oly’s childhood, with her having to deal with her siblings who are all more talented than she. Arturo, who was born with flippers for arms and legs, is the star of the family. He is amazingly charismatic but also rather cruel and is the center of their lives. Electra (“Elly”) and Iphigenia (“Iphy”), the piano playing siamese twins, are another centerpiece of the family, while the baby of the family, Fortunato or “Chick”, who almost was abandoned for looking normal at birth, has telekinetic abilities.
I am not going to lie. This book will likely rip out your heart, stomp on it, and mash it a little, but it will give your heart back to you, more or less in one piece. Its not for the faint of heart, having everything from deformed children to mutilation cults, but at the same time, it’s also a story about an American family living the American dream. Every family has their eccentricities, and everyone is trying to make a living to support their families. The Binewskis just did it in a very different way.
If you can handle a little bit of a soul beating, read this book. Yes it’s weird, and yes it’s just as crazy if not crazier than I described, but this is a book that will in many ways stick with you. I read it maybe six years ago for the first time, and I can’t help but think of it from time to time. This is American story telling at its finest. People talk about the next great American novel, and if they missed this book, they missed it. It’s thought provoking, and it sets the standard for originality that I think most authors should strive for.
“What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?”