Geek Love, Invisibility & Being an Other

I kicked my reading New Year off by turning to a longtime favorite, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. This is a book I’m pretty sure I discovered in the dusty upstairs of The Book Peddler, a used bookstore in downtown Eau Claire sometime in the 90s. I don’t know what happened to that copy. I distinctly remember buying it again from the Half-Price Books back in 2000.

Do you care about this? Probably not.

One of my reading goals this year is to re-read more. As an avid reader who likes to be up on all the latest “it” books, I rarely make time to re-read, and yet every time I dive back into an old-favorite I’m delighted by it all over again. It feels like a sort of very personal homecoming.

I needed that kind of comfort as I busted into the New Year newly lonely knowing that a majority of the Portland-contingent of my family would not be back for six long months (though Max will be here in April and I cannot wait). While I know my entire family loves me, it’s only the Portland-contingent who are interested in me as an actual human. I don’t have a lot in common with everyone else and so it’s often like I’m invisible again, and I turn into the silent, sullen teenage version of myself. It’s been difficult.

So every night curling into the weird, twisted family story in Dunn’s novel was oddly comforting. In case you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s the story of the Binewski’s, a traveling carnival family filled with freaks. See, parents Al & Crystal Lil decided to breed their own freak show by doping up Lil on a variety of substances when she was pregnant. Their surviving children included Arturo, who had flippers instead of limbs, conjoined twins Iphy and Elly, albino hunchback Oly, and ol’ Chick who appears to be normal.

The book is about love and family and desire and religion and being a freak. It is also phenomenal. Definitely on my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Novels list, maybe even in the top five.

What I love so much about Geek Love, aside from its exquisite writing and the interesting story is how well it gets the sort of otherness that comes from being physically different than most of the world.

My worst is all out in the open. It makes it necessary for people to tell you about themselves. They begin out of simple courtesy. Just being visible is my biggest confession, so they try to set me at ease by revealing our equality, by dragging out their apparent deformities. Thatís how it starts.

When it comes to otherness I’m not doing too shabby all things considered. While I might be freakishly tall and fat, I’m still afforded a lot of the privileges that come from being a white heterosexual, able-bodied woman. However, that does not make me any less aware that I am an other, an anomaly, a freak that is openly gawked at and questioned by random strangers. And that, for those of you who are not othered, can be isolating as fuck. It makes you feel as though you are a lone alien visiting this planet, and that nobody can understand.

Somehow, Katherine Dunn understands. Reading Geek Love now, as an adult, gives me the same feeling I had when I was a child and first discovered Beezus Quimby, the feeling that I am not alone.

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