Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

From a previous Halloween.

My Scary Read. Or weird read.

I was choosing my annual scary read and Geek Love was on every single list. With a promise that it was truly disturbing and odd – just what I was looking for – I picked it up.

There is a genuinely creepy tone to the book that can overshadow the writing. Like anything weird, the weirdness threatens to become the story. In this case, though, the story centers on a family who feels that the most endearing gift a parent can give a child is a marketable deformity. So Pa shoots Ma up with all kinds of nefarious dope while pregnant in hopes of giving birth to freaks. Some children don’t live. They are put in jars where patrons of the freak show pay to peer at them. The children who survive become working and contributing members of a truly odd family. Each has an oddity or deformity. The most normal are least respected. Aqua Boy, with fins for limbs, is most special.

The writing is engaging, but I’m not sure I want to turn the pages. Just like the flamboyant and proud freaks, the prose is never dull and always witty. But the story didn’t carry me like I expected. Once the novelty of conjoined twins and babies swimming in formaldehyde wears off, the reader is left with a conventional story of families and relationships. But make no bones about it – the story is creepy. Author Katherine Dunn takes everything dark, everything hidden, and everything feared and shines the full light of the sun on them. Those things become normal, and the reader begins to squirm.

The book is a good read and worthy of any Halloween list. An advance review by Kirkus Reviews likened the book to ‘a collaboration between John Irving and David Lynch’ and I think that’s spot on. I had the same uncomfortably weird experience reading Geek Love as I did watching Eraser Head. And that’s exactly why we read these books.

It’s not classic literature, or Russian, or French. It’s not scare-the-pants-off-you Steven King. It is, however, weird and disturbing. If that’s what you’re looking for at this time of year, then, hey, you’re in luck. Someone has injected their book with just enough weirdness to create something you can enjoy.

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