Geek Love Summary

Katherine Dunn

Geek Love

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Geek Love Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

Before it was published as one whole piece in 1989, parts of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love appeared in Mississippi Mud Book of Days in 1983 and Looking Glass Bookstore Review in 1988. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. The book sold 400,000 copies, 10,000 of which were electronic books. In 1992, the British band Bang Bang Machine released a single called “Geek Love” about the novel. A well-received stage adaptation was produced in January of 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. Prevalent themes include the normal versus the weird, the rise of genetic manipulation, the controlling structure of cults, and the roles of the family.

The novel chronicles two separate but deeply connected time periods. First is the era of the Binewski children’s life and struggle. In particular the reader sees the events through one of the children, Olympia’s eyes (often called Oly or Hopalong Gurk) and perspective. The Binewski’s have a unique lifestyle. They have a travelling circus which specializes in freaks, made up of the genetically modified Binewski children, created by their parents.

The story begins with Papa (Aloysius) telling the story about how he met his wife, Crystal Lil or Lillian. The children are described, one by one. The eldest child is Arturo, or Aqua Man, and instead of human limbs, the boy has flippers. There are twins—Siamese twins attached at the torso— Electra and Iphigenia. Olympia, the main character, is an albino dwarf who does not have any particular abilities, and is therefore mostly used as a lackey for the others. The youngest, Fortunato (or Chick) has telekinetic powers. It is revealed that the parents curated their children’s freakishness, as they look down on normal people.

The children grow and develop, and begin to depend less and less on their parents, and more on their eldest brother Arty. Arty creates his very own cult, calling it Artuism. He convinces norms to cut off their limbs in order to be more like him. He names the goal of the cult “PIP”: Peace, Isolation, Purity. Arty continues to influence and manipulate his siblings away from the circus and closer to his cult; he causes them all sorts of suffering. Oly convinces Chick to help her become impregnated with Arty’s sperm. Chick agrees, and moves the sperm out of Arty’s body and into hers. When Arty discovers this, he forces Oly to send the child, a girl named Miranda, away to a convent.

Chick becomes increasingly more sensitive to the suffering his big brother is causing him. The twins Electra and Iphigenia, grow into their sexual maturity and begin to prostitute themselves to the highest bidder, as a way to resist Arty’s cult following. Tragically, the twins and their baby end up dying, which sets Chick off for the last time. He becomes so angry he creates a firestorm, which destroys the entire circus except for Oly and Crystal Lil.

The second time period is the present and focuses on Oly’s daughter, Miranda. After the circus is destroyed, Oly runs away to look for a normal life. She finds a job reading stories on the radio, and brings Miranda and Crystal Lil to a rooming house she is living in. Crystal Lil has become blind, deaf, and mentally unstable, and Miranda, now nineteen years old, has no idea that Oly is her mother or that Oly lives with them. Miranda lives off a trust fund from Oly. Oly keeps herself hidden to keep an eye on her daughter. Miranda was not born completely normal; she was born with a small tail, and uses this to her advantage at a local fetish strip club. At the club, Miranda meets Mary Lick, a wealthy woman who tries to convince (and pay for) Miranda to cut off her tail. Mary tells Miranda she helps young women reach their potential by ridding themselves of their superficial beauty so they succeed though merit alone. It is suggested Miss Lick does this as a way to punish freaks for being more attractive than she is. Oly’s plan is to stop this from happening to her daughter. It is revealed that Miss Lick is a dedicated follower of Artruism, which has lived on through the years, and Miss Lick hopes to disfigure these girls to help them reach their “full potential.”

Finally, Oly succeeds in killing Miss Luck. It is the only way she sees to keep Miranda the way she is. She kills herself as well, and before the murder-suicide, she leaves her daughter a letter. She also gives her a trunk filled with assorted notes and letters, which will help explain the entire story, including the Binewski Freakshow, Artruism, and her parentage.