The original book cover showed 3 mutant letter "e"s. The Knopf logo on the spine that is a Russian Wolfhound has a fifth leg in honor of the Binewskis. Chip Kidd is the designer of the cover and he also designed these famous covers: Jurassic Park, several David Sedaris Books including Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, covers for Donna Tartt, John Updike, 1984 by Haruki Murakami.
Geek Love was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989, up against E. L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate, Oscar Hijuelos’s Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, and John Casey’s Spartina. (Spartina won.) Do you think this recognition was deserving?
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? Did the language add or take away from the story. Did it set a tone for the book?
The book is full of illustrative adjectives and descriptive sentences such as on page 137 when papa states "you girls look a bit better now. Less like a demon crew and more like hungover angels." p. 187 "to doss down on a cot in a trailer shared with twelve sweaty, spitting, cursing, chortling roustabouts who viewed him as one rung lower than last nights beer farts" Were there some passages that you found particularly shocking, funny, offensive?
The novelist Karen Russell (whose Pulitzer-nominated Swamplandia! owes an obvious debt to Geek Love, and who thanks Dunn in the acknowledgments) describes Dunn’s prose as a “pyrotechnic medium so far removed from our workaday speech that it feels unfair and inaccurate to call that fire-language ‘English.’” An example from chapter 8: “A carnival in daylight is an unfinished beast, anyway. Rain makes it a ghost. The wheezing music from the empty, motionless rides in a soft, rained-out afternoon midway always hits my chest with a sweet ache. The colored dance of the lights in the seeping air flashed the puddles in the sawdust with an oily glamour.” Or this reflection from Arty, the boy with flippers, in chapter 9: “We have this advantage, that the norms expect us to be wise. Even a rat’s-ass dwarf got credit for terrible canniness disguised in his foolery. Freaks are like owls, mythed into blinking, bloodless objectivity.”
This book was written in the early eighties. Does is reflect or satirize American culture from that time period?
In what ways did you have to suspend your disbelief in this story? Were you successful and how did this allow you to enjoy or not enjoy the story?
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?
What power does Arty hold over each of his family members?
What are the Arturians seeking? How does disfiguring them give them a sense of purpose?
Why do you think Vern the Bag Man went to Arthuro after being released from prison for killing his ex-wife. What drew him in?
On page 251 Why did Al go along with the idea that the twins were to marry the Bag Man? Why was he so dismissive of them when they were expressing their true feelings to him? What power did Arty have over him?
On page 109 Chick describes to Oly how he is able to move things with his mind. stating that "it moves itself. I just let it." He goes on to give the illustration of water always wanting to move. That he lays the path for things to move. How did this description help you visualize or understand how Chick was able to perform so many great feats with his mind (eg: Impregnating Oly, performing surgery)
In the second half of the book when the dreamlings are teenagers Al and Lil seem to be fading away and are no longer a guiding force in the children's lives. What is the reason for this? How would it be different for the children if their parents were more like they were in the beginning of the book?
What are Arty's believes on cults? Do you think he believed he was running one?
Where do Elly and Arty get their selfish drive. What holds Iphy, Oly and Chick back from becoming more like them?
In the end Oly kills Mary Lick and herself. Why did she make this sacrifice. What did it mean for her to stop Miranda from amputating her tail? Was it for the best for all three women? What are Oly's hopes for Miranda?
Oly writes a letter she leaves for Miranda explaining who she is and where Miranda came from. Do you think it was always going to be her intention to let Miranda know upon her death. Do you think she ever would have let Miranda know while she was still alive?
What do you think happened with Chick and the fire that destroyed the circus and so many people?
In what ways are Al Bineski and Mary Lick similar and different from each other?
Olympia says that Miss Lick’s purpose in arranging disfiguring operations is to "liberate women who are liable to be exploited by male hungers. These exploitable women are, in Miss Lick’s 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?
In one of Arturo’s 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?
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?
Why do you think this book has risen to the status of "cult classic?"