Katherine Dunn

Geek Love

  • 62-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 28 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree
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Geek Love Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 62-page guide for “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 28 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Importance of Family and Contrasting Perceptions of Freakishness and Normalcy.

Plot Summary

Geek Love is a 1989 novel by Katherine Dunn. The novel is structured as a memoir written by Olympia “Oly” Binewski, an albino hunchback dwarf, as she chronicles the bizarre story of her family of carnival freaks. Her parents, Aloysius “Al” and Lillian “Lil, Lily, or Crystal Lil” Binewski, had sought to prop up their faltering traveling carnival by breeding their own children into freaks through the prenatal use of illicit drugs, poison, and radiation.

The eldest living child, Arturo, nicknamed Arty, is known professionally as Aqua Boy and was born with flippers instead of arms and legs. Electra and Iphigenia, ”Elly and Iphy,” are Siamese twins; they have individual upper bodies, are joined at the waist, and share one set of hips and legs. The youngest sibling is Fortunato, nicknamed Chick, who seems ”normal” at birth, but soon demonstrates telekinetic powers. The family believes that “norms,” or normal people, are inferior to those who are unique and they are therefore scornful of the “norms” who patronize the carnival.

The story sections alternate between Oly’s memories of her family life and her description of the present day, when she is 38 years old and living in Portland. In her narrative of the past, the family travels the countryside with their carnival, the Binewski Fabulon, with a cast of characters such as Horst the Cat Man, who handles lions and tigers; the redheads, young women who work the midway booths; and Zephir McGurk, the carnival’s electrician. A journalist named Norval Sanderson also begins traveling with the carnival and his journal entries provide an outsider’s point of view of the narrative.

Over time, Arty increasingly dominates and manipulates his family members and the carnival as a whole. His Aqua Boy act becomes the star attraction and his fame increases, as does his need to dictate the actions and desires of his parents and siblings. Oly worships Arty and serves as his caretaker, even though she hates many of his actions. Gentle Iphy loves Arty, though strong-willed Elly despises him. Sweet little Chick wants to please everyone, and his extremely sensitive nature suffers as the family’s emotional and mental state deteriorates.

Arty’s command of the carnival evolves into a cult called Arturism, with followers whose devotion is so complete that, in order to be like Arty, they have appendages surgically removed by Dr. Phyllis, a doctor who has attached herself to the carnival troupe.

Iphy and Elly attempt to rebel by prostituting themselves to wealthy carnival attendees, so Arty punishes them by giving them to the Bag Man, a hideously-deformed man who had tried to murder the Binewski children when they were very young. Lil recognizes the Bag Man and kills him, but he has already impregnated the twins. To keep Elly subservient, Arty instructs Dr. Phyllis to lobotomize her. The twins give birth to an enormous baby that Iphy names Mumpo.

Oly also wishes to have a baby and she asks Chick to transfer Arty’s sperm into her body. She gives birth to a baby she names Miranda, who appears normal, apart from having a small tail. Arty forces Oly to send the baby away to be raised in a convent.

Out of guilt, Arty asks Chick to bring back Elly’s mental faculties, but once she is back in control of her body, Elly kills baby Mumpo. Iphy retaliates by killing Elly, which devastates Chick, who realizes that all of the family’s suffering has been caused by Arty and his machinations. In a fit of anger and despair, Chick produces a tremendous fire storm that destroys much of the carnival. Among the family, only Oly and Lil survive.

Interspersed throughout this account are Oly’s “{NOTES FOR NOW},” her narrative in the present day, twenty years after the destruction of the Fabulon. Oly lives in Portland and works as an on-air personality at a radio station. She lives in the same apartment building as Lil, who is blind, hard of hearing, and insane (and has no recognition of Oly), and Miranda, who does not know that Oly is her mother. Miranda is an art student who wants to draw nudes of Oly and who works in a strip club that features exotic acts. There, she meets Mary Lick, a wealthy heiress who, inspired by the tenets of Arturism, pays young women to undergo surgery to mutilate themselves so that they can reach their full potential in life. Miss Lick wants to pay Miranda to have her tail removed. To protect Miranda, Oly befriends Miss Lick, with the intention of getting close enough to her to kill her.

Miranda becomes Oly’s first and only true friend, but she still carries out the murder. A newspaper article at the end of the novel reveals that Oly then committed suicide. She leaves a letter and a trunk full of memorabilia for Miranda, explaining her heritage, and asks her to take care of Lil.

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