I told myself that I’d go through this entire alphabet project without directly referencing a book and focusing on writing itself, rather than babbling about books I enjoyed. Well, this is an (no doubt the only) exception.
During our time at university we were exposed to a lot of new literature (well for us, anyway), and amongst the massive pile of feminist literature I discovered Katharine Dunn’s Geek Love, and while I’m not entirely sure if it’s because of the other works we studied (but probably not, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies was in there too and that’s another of my all-time favourites), Geek Love is now one of my favourite books. The title caught my eye, not just because I’m pretty geeky but because it follows the traditional implications of the word “geek”, as defined in 1989 when the book was released, and the ten years before that in which it was written. The traditional meaning of the work is for a “fool or freak”, something abnormal, which by what my loved ones say is probably a pretty solid friendship right there between man and book.
Geek Love is disgusting, beautifully so. The protagonists are all members of a travelling carnival, a deformed family with their own unique quirks. While I’m traditionally a sucker for groups of protagonists with special abilities and unique talents, this form of deformations amongst the family is self-imposed by their parents, who ingest radioactive materials and deliberately deform their children. The entire novel is pretty dark; the family keep the deceased foetuses of lost children on display, and the themes are as dark and dingy as they come.
Am I saying that I enjoy the novel solely because it’s dark and edgy? No, that’s the icing. I have the greatest respect for authors who can distance their attachment to their characters: and let almost anything happen to them. Several writers make the mistake of getting too attached to their characters and protecting them so that little conflict ever reaches them – and how is that supposed to be interesting? There are some incredibly tense moments in the novel, none of which I’m willing to spoil but the entire thing influenced my writing quite significantly.
Also, it has a telekinetic and a lobster boy. What’s not to like?