Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn. Published in 1989.

The story of Geek Love is grotesque—a vivid nightmare of abuse, violence, incest, and all manner of depravity—so it’s a testament to Katherine Dunn’s skill as a writer that the novel manages to overcome readers’ knee-jerk repulsion. Although the horror remains, as it should, the detached disgust melts away, making room for the wonder and thought and empathy the book also inspires. Dunn easily could have traded in shock value, but her writing is too smart and too human for anything so cheap. The bizarre premise might capture the attention, but the carefully controlled narrative, perceptively drawn characters, and evocative language are what make Geek Love so memorable and profoundly affecting.