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This title in other editions

Geek Love

by

Geek Love Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. Geek Love is preceded by an epigraph from “The Tempest,” in which the magician Prospero says of the monster Caliban: “This thing of darkness I Acknowledge mine” [“The Tempest,” 5.1.275-6]. How is this quote relevant to the novel? In what sense is Geek Love about acknowledging ones own darkness, freakishness, or otherness?

2. Reviewers, even in praising Geek Love, have described it as “bizarre” (Chicago Tribune), “shocking” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), and “grisly” (The Philadelphia Inquirer). In what ways does the novel seek to shock readers? What preconceptions does it try to overturn? How does it manage to be both engaging and deeply disturbing?

3. Reading imaginative literature requires, as Samuel Coleridge said, a willing suspension of disbelief. How difficult is it to suspend disbelief and enter into the fictional world of Geek Love? What are the rewards of doing so?

4. The first chapter of Geek Love is titled “The Nuclear Family,” and the father Al is described as a “standard-issue Yankee, set on self-determination and independence” [p. 7]. In what ways are the Binewskis like a typical American family, with its ambitions and rivalries and emotional power struggles? What is Dunn suggesting by pointing out these similarities?

5. Geek Love was written in the early eighties. How does it reflect and satirize American culture at that time?

6. When Chick is born, the family is ashamed and wants to get rid of him because he appears to be normal; Olympia speaks of escaping childhood knowledge into the innocence of adulthood; and eventually people who come to Artys shows pay to have their limbs amputated so they can feel whole again. What is Dunn suggesting through these reversals of values? What does she accomplish by subverting our “normal” ways of perceiving these things?

7. When Oly asks Arty if the ghost stories he reads scare him, he replies, “These are written by norms to scare norms. And do you know what the monsters and demons and rancid spirits are? Us, thats what. You and me. We are the things that come to the norms in nightmares. . . . These books teach me a lot. They dont scare me because theyre about me” [p. 46]. In what sense is Arty right in thinking that he and his siblings are the stuff of normal peoples nightmares? What is frightening about them? Is Dunns book disconcerting because in some important way its more a reflection of ourselves than we care to admit?

8. Katherine Dunn employs many unusual words in Geek Love: skootching, skuttered, rooched, snorking, frowzled, etc. What do such words add to the flavor of the novel? In what ways is such language appropriate to the story Dunn is telling?

9. In his journal, Norval Sanderson writes, “General opinion about Arty varies, from those who see him as a profound humanitarian to those who view him as a ruthless reptile” [p. 273]. Which of these views is more accurate? Is Arty a healer or a huckster?

10. How do the twins, Iphy and Elly, Arty, Chick, and Oly relate to each other? What roles do they play? How does Arty gain control over them?

11. Why does Dunn use the story of Hopalong McGurk, Miranda, and Mary Lick, which occurs in the fictional present, to frame the main narrative of the rise and fall of the Binewski family? What does each story line contribute to the other? In what ways is Mark Lick like Arty?

12. Olympia says that Miss Licks purpose in arranging disfiguring operations is to “liberate women who are liable to be exploited by male hungers. These exploitable women are, in Miss Licks view, the pretty ones.” After they lose their beauty they can “use their talents and intelligence to become powerful” [p. 162]. Is this a valid critique of the constraints of attractiveness for women? What does the novel as a whole say about the relation between appearance and power?

13. In one of Arturos statements to Norval Sanderson, he says, “I get glimpses of the horror of normalcy. Each of these innocents on the street is engulfed by a terror of their own ordinariness. They would do anything to be unique” [p. 223]. Is he right? Do most people fear being ordinary?

14. Why does Oly kill Mary Lick and then herself at the end of the novel? What are her hopes for her daughter?

15. The reviewer for Kirkus wrote that the novel is about “love and hubris in a carnival family.” How does love motivate the main characters in the novel? Who is guilty of hubris? What are the consequences of this overreaching ambition?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 14 comments:

Jonathan Resendez, October 23, 2014 (view all comments by Jonathan Resendez)
I love the fact that this book came out in 1989, long before any of us younger readers were reading books that skewed our perception of life so much!
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sixstrng, October 21, 2014 (view all comments by sixstrng)
Just in time for Halloween! I wanted to read something macabre or disturbing or terrifyingly delightful for my October read. Suffice it to say I satiated all those emotions by reading this book. Geek Love is the story of the bizarrely brazen Binewski family of freaks. They travel the country with their family caravan of proud oddities....the Brady Bunch of the carnival side show. Murder and mayhem ensue as the family grows more peculiar with each new addition to the family. This book defies description beyond a more detailed synopsis, but that would take me all day to write and you would still be left scratching your head in puzzlement. I guess you will just have to take this book junkie's word and read it for yourself. I will never forget it. I am still walking around with mind indigestion trying to lose this uneasy feeling as if I'd just witnessed a donkey riding a dog while strumming on a banjo and singing Amazing Grace in B major. Yeah....its that weird.
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mlovesart, September 12, 2014 (view all comments by mlovesart)
I would recommend this book to the right reader- one who appreciates quirkiness and doesn't mind gasping a little. It's not nightmare inducingly horrific, but it does have a certain grotesqueness that some may not appreciate. In some parts, I felt it was a little contrived and that the writing could be choppy. Many laud the book for being well written, but hmmmmm...
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375713347
Author:
Dunn, Katherine
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Location:
New York, NY
Subject:
General
Subject:
Family
Subject:
Monsters
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
Circus performers.
Subject:
Carnival owners
Subject:
Freak shows
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries
Series Volume:
4
Publication Date:
June 2002
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
7.95 x 5.1 x .75 in .6 lb

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Genre
Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture
History and Social Science » Pacific Northwest » Literature Folklore and Memoirs

Geek Love New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$15.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375713347 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

The Binewskis are just the typical Portland family: Traveling carnies Al and Lil Binewski breed their own carnival oddities through drug experimentation and radiation. Their children include a boy-fish, conjoined twins, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, and one son without any such talents. Well, the siblings fight, the carnival becomes a cult, and things spiral out of control... then we end up in Portland for an emotional and empowering ending. Okay, maybe it's not all set in the Northwest, but it certainly packs a punch.

"Staff Pick" by ,

This is the book I recommend more than any other — I can barely hold onto a copy of it because I am always giving it away to anyone who I think needs something that will blow the top of their skull off. On one level, it is the engaging, creepy, and extraordinary story of a family of purposely designed circus freaks, as told by the hunchback albino dwarf sister. On another level, it is a story about identity and belonging: How do you define yourself in terms of your family? Your culture? Your body? Your religion? How do you know what or who you really are?

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Those entering the world of carnival freaks described by narrator Olympia Binewski, a bald, humpbacked albino dwarf, will find no escape from a story at once engrossing and repellent, funny and terrifying, unreal and true to human nature....a novel that everyone will be talking about, a brilliant, suspenseful, heartbreaking tour de force." Publishers Weekly
"Review" by , "Page after page she shocks us....A Fellini movie in ink."
"Review" by , "Wonderfully descriptive...the comic exploration of the peculiar...gives Geek Love its main success: that and Ms. Dunn's tremendous imagination."
"Review" by , "What elevates this work is Dunn's controlled, matter-of-fact narrative, her skillful character development, and her relentless insistence that we address these people and their concerns in human terms. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "A Fellini movie in ink.... Geek Love throws a punch."
"Review" by , "Wonderfully descriptive....Dunn [has a] tremendous imagination."
"Review" by , "Unrelentingly bizarre.... perverse but riveting....Will keep you turning the pages."
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