Geek Love

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Geek Love
Geeklove bookcover.jpg
AuthorKatherine Dunn
Cover artistDavid Hughes
CountryUnited States
PublisherCatherine Marshal
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3554.U47 G4 1989

Geek Love is a novel by Katherine Dunn, published completely by Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Random House) in 1989. Dunn published parts of the novel in Mississippi Mud Book of Days (1983) and Looking Glass Bookstore Review (1988). It was a finalist for the National Book Award.[1]

The novel is the story of a traveling carnival run by Aloysius "Al" Binewski and his wife "Crystal" Lil, and their children, seen through the eyes of their daughter Olympia ("Oly") who writes the family history for her daughter Miranda. When the business begins to fail, the couple devise an idea to breed their own freak show, using various drugs and radioactive material to alter the genes of their children. The results are Arturo ("Arty," also known as "Aqua Boy"),[1] a boy with flippers for hands and feet; Electra ("Elly") and Iphigenia ("Iphy"), Siamese Twins; Olympia ("Oly"), a hunchbacked albino dwarf; and Fortunato ("Chick"), the normal-looking baby of the family who has telekinetic powers.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel takes place in two interwoven[1] time periods: the first deals with the Binewski children's constant struggle against each other through life. They especially have to deal with the Machiavellian Arty as he develops his own cult: Arturism. In this cult, Arty persuades people to have their limbs amputated (so that they can be like him) in their search for the principle he calls PIP ("Peace, Isolation, Purity"). Each member moves up in stages, losing increasingly significant chunks of their body, starting with their toes and fingers. As Arty battles his siblings to maintain control over his followers, competition between their respective freak shows slowly begins to take over their lives.

The second story is set in the present and is centered on Oly's daughter, Miranda. Nineteen-year-old Miranda does not know Oly is her mother. She lives on a trust fund created by Oly before she gave up her daughter to be raised by nuns. This had been urged by her brother Arty, who was also Miranda's father (not through sexual intercourse, but by the telekinetic powers of Chick, who carried Arty's sperm directly to Oly's ovum). Oly lives in the same rooming house as Miranda so she can "spy" on her. (The rooming house is run by "Crystal" Lil, who is so addled that she doesn't know Oly is her daughter.)[1] Miranda has a special defect of her own, a small tail, which she flaunts at a local fetish strip club. There she meets Mary Lick, who tries to convince her to have the tail cut off. Lick is a wealthy woman who pays attractive women to get disfiguring operations, ostensibly so they may live up to their potential instead of becoming sex objects; it is implied, however, that Lick's real motivation is to punish them for being more attractive than she is.[1] Oly plans to stop Lick in order to protect her daughter.


Dunn has said she remembers when she began writing the book in the late '70s, walking to Portland's Washington Park Rose Garden, contemplating nature versus nurture. Her interest in cults also led to elements of the book.[2] She has described the genesis of the book, which took her nearly ten years to write and more than that to publish it, in 1989. She said "All the time I was working on Geek Love, it was like my own private autism."[3]

Publishing design[edit]

The book's original cover art by Chip Kidd caused a sensation at book conventions when it was introduced in 1989[citation needed]. Its plain, stark orange color and unusual fonts went against conventional design aesthetics[citation needed]. In keeping with the novel's theme of mutation, the lettering of the title employs mutated fonts, and the book's spine sports a five-legged dog, one of the rare instances when Knopf has allowed its dog logo to be altered.


As of 2014 the book sold more than 400,000 copies, 10,000 of them ebooks.[3]

Jim Rose (of the Jim Rose Circus) has said that "Dunn set the table for this whole modern freak-show vibe."[3]

In 1992, the British band Bang Bang Machine released the single "Geek Love," about the novel. The song topped the John Peel Festive 50 that year.

Tim Burton bought the rights to the book in the 1990s. The story, about a traveling circus that uses chemicals to create genuine freaks, seemed perfect for Burton, but there has been no word about it since. In an interview with Dunn, she stated "He's got the rights. That's half the battle right there. Though it no longer seems like something he'd do. It's a little too horror for him now in my opinion. Though I would love to see this film get made."[4]

In January 2004 theatre company Sensurround Stagings in Atlanta, Georgia, produced a well-received stage adaptation of Geek Love.[citation needed] This adaptation was reprised in Atlanta for summer 2004 and then taken to the New York Fringe Festival later that year.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e Abernethy, Michael. "Family Circus: Katherine Dunn's Geek Love," Pop Matters (1 February 2006).
  2. ^ Lain, Katy. "Dead and Circuses: A Conversation With Katherine Dunn," (7 July 1996).
  3. ^ a b c Roper, Caitlin (April 2, 2014). "Geek Loved". Willamette Week.
  4. ^ Reyes, Eli (2009). "TIM BURTON projects that NEVER MADE it to the screen". geektyrant. Retrieved July 18, 2018.