Monday, December 3, 2012

Recent Reading: Finding Inspiration in Geek Love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is in may ways the type of book I want to write.  It addresses some fundamental questions on the nature of humanity in a creative and compelling (although at times morbid and disturbing) way. 

I'll sumamrize the narrative using quotes from the work itself, adding my own emphasis.  The story is told by Olympia, the albino hunchback daughter of Al and Lily Binewski.

The set up:

“Al was a standard issue Yankee, set on self-determination and independence, but in that crisis his core genius revealed itself. He decided to breed his own freak show.”
“As she [Lily] often said “What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?””
“My mother developed a complex dependency on various drugs during this process, but she didn’t mind.  Relying on Pap’s ingenuity to keep her supplied, Lily seemed to view her addiction as a minor by-product of their creative collaboration.”
Intrigued about what is going to happen with this family? Well, the children seem to embrace their genetics in various degrees of enthusiasm.  The most assertive of them all is Arturo, or Arty, who was born with fleshy fins instead of hands and feet.  He is a very interesting character, and the path he takes carries the novel's tension, to thepoint where he forms his own cult.  Below is some insight on his journey.

The development of Arty:

“Hey, nit qaut! These [horror stories] are written by norms to scare norms.  And do you know what monsters and demons and rancid spirits are? Us, that’s what. You and me.  We are the things that come to the norms in nightmares.  The thing that lurks in the bell tower and bites out the throats of the choirboys – that’s you.  And the thing in the closet that makes the babies scream in the dark before it sucks their last breath – that’s me. …These books teach me a lot.  They don’t scare me because they’re about me. Turn the page.”
“That’s my curse.  I’m a freak but not much of a freak.  I’m like you, f*d up without being special.”
Arturism was founded, wrote Sanderson, “on the greed and spite of a transcendental maggot named Arturo Bineswski, who used his own genetic defects and the weakness of the unemployed and illiterate to create an insanely self-destructive following that fed his maniacal egos”…
“Within days, Arturo, the clever boy, had turned the attack to his own purposes…proclaiming that he was, indeed, the Transcendental maggot, and that his power to thrive in the decaying frenzy of the planet was available to all those who were willing to accept it.”

The Side Story:

Olympia often struggles with family dynamics.  Her daughter, Miranda, is unaware of her existence. Yet, Olympia still checks in on her.  Her daughter was born with a tail, and she uses it as a source of income, much like the family she doesn't know about.  However there is a person who has offered to remove that.   Miranda asks if she's wrong to like her tail...

Miranda: “You must have wished a million times to be normal.”

Olympia: “No”

Miranda: “No?”

Olympia: “I wish I had two heads. Or that I was invisible. I’ve wished for a fish’s tail instead of legs. I’ve wished to be more special.”


As you can tell, there is anteresting paradigm for this novel.  the normalcy of unnormalcy if you will.  The author like to turn the concepts of love, beauty, and social norms on their head.  Here are a few more samples that I enjoyed.

On the concept of the innocence of childhood (or in the case the innocence of adulthood)

“It is, I suppose, the common grief of children at having to protect their parents from reality. It is bitter for the young to see what awful innocence adults grow into, that terrible vulnerability that must be sheltered from the rodent mire of childhood.

Can we blame the child for resenting the fantasy of largeness? Big, soft arms and deep voices in the dark saying “Tell Papa, tell Mama, and we’ll make it right” The child, screaming for refuge, senses how feeble a shelter the twig hut of grown-up awareness is. They claim strength, these parents, and complete sanctuary. The weeping earth itself knows how desperate the child’s need for exactly that sanctuary. How deep and sticky is the darkness of childhood, how rigid the blades of infant evil, which is unadulterated, unrestrained by the convenient cushions of age and its civilizing anesthesia.

Grownups can deal with scraped knees, dropped ice-cream cones, and lost dollies, but if they suspected the real reasons we cry they would fling us out of their arms in horrified revulsion. Yet we are small and terrified as we are terrifying in our ferocious appetites.

We need that warm adult stupidity. Even knowing the illusion, we cry and hide in their laps, speaking only of defiled lollipops or lost bears, and getting a lollipop or toy bear’s worth of comfort. We make do with it rather than face alone the cavernous reaches of our skulls for which there is no remedy, no safety, no comfort at all. We survive until, by sheer stamina, we escape into the dim innocence of our own adulthood and its forgetfulness.”


On love - from one of the Siamese twins.

“He was normal with a big N.  That was what I loved.  But, when the look in his eye changed, I realized, if there’s one thing a healthy, beautiful, utterly normal boy does not do, it’s fall in love with half a pair of Siamese twins.

On greatness - a reporter to Arturo

“Is elephant gas great?  Is it great in the pain that it causes the elephant? Or in the relief, it affords when expressed? Or perhaps it is only great if it is ignited on farting and the resulting explosion is used to power a turbine? Is an elephant fart great in and of itself? Or only in its effect?”

On Social Conventions

"She talks. People talk easily to me.  They think a bald albino hunchback dwarf can’t hide anything.  My worst is all out in the open….Just being visible is my biggest confession, so they try to set me at ease by revealing our equality, by dragging out their less apparent deformities.”

Great Language:

A hallmark of most great works of literature are some choice moments when words begin to make music.  Dunn pulls of it off several times.  Here are my favorites.
“You girls look better now. Less like a demon crew and more like hung-over angels.”
"She tears me up.  I sit here laughing at her.  She is a galumphing dugong, an elvish ox, a sentimental rhino.”
"There are parts of Texas where a fly lives ten thousand years and a man can’t die soon enough.”

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