Book Review: Geek Love

Halla M.

Geek Love

Katherine Dunn

1983

Fiction

Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, tells the story of the Binewski children, wonderful “freaks” designed by the poisons, drugs and chemicals ingested by their mother during her pregnancies.

Much like the short story, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski, books explore what it means to be beautiful- in more way than one. Not only do the stories challenge what beauty means, but they also show the sometimes devastating effects of beauty on the beautiful. It is a common misconception of people that physical beautiful equals happiness. Some people who think they are ugly and feel sad for this reason believe that the only way to make themselves happy is to be beautiful, because not only does beauty lead to happiness, but, in their minds, being beautiful means that they will be loved. However, in reality, this is not so. Being beautiful is not always what people actually want, and being beautiful does not mean they will be loved, as shown in the quote below.

“Because people would love you if you were beautiful? And if people loved you, you would be happy? Is it people loving you that makes you happy? . . . Or is it people not loving you that makes you unhappy? If they don’t love you it’s because there’s something wrong with you. If they love you then it must mean you’re all right. You poor baby. Poor, poor baby. . . . You just want to know that you’re all right. You just want to feel all right. . . . That’s all you need other people’s love for! You don’t want to be beautiful! All you really want is to know that you’re all right!”-Arturo Binewski, the “Aqua Boy,” a character in Dunn’s Geek Love

Arturo points out why people want to be beautiful- it’s because they want to be loved, and they feel that being loved is impossible without the aid of beauty. However, simply having a beautiful outside cannot make someone love them. People fall in love and love others no matter what: it doesn’t matter if they are “beautiful,” because a pretty face could never make up for an ugly heart.

In the quote below from The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, Cass talks about why it’s better to not be beautiful, because it means that what people do for them is out of actual care or love, not just to gain something.

“Because people think it’s all I have. Beauty is nothing, beauty won’t stay. You don’t know how lucky you are to be ugly, because if people like you, then you know it’s for something else.”

The point of view that these two quotes show is that beauty is beside the point. It’s frivolous; physical beauty is something that leaves with time. What is the point of basing oneself, and the way people think of them, on some fleeting façade? Why not allow people to love what’s inside, their brain and their soul? Beauty can turn women into sex objects and women’s beauty can turn men into illiterate fools, interested only in what females can offer them.   Beauty allows people to coast through life, not using the full potential of their minds, but rather relying on a superficial outside. And yet, despite the passing nature of such things, people still want beauty, and will go to any means to get it.

In Geek Love and The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, beauty is the cause of pain for many of the main characters.  One’s beauty is more of a curse, and other characters not deemed beautiful are much happier, although spiteful and jealous. Nevertheless, some of them would never dream of wanting to be beautiful. They prefer to be uniquely special, because they feel that the beautiful ones are shallow and empty. In the absence of beauty, the characters in the stories had power.

So what does beauty mean? Both books challenge the definition, changing it from a physical and visual thing to a mental and emotional one. In both the main characters attempt to destroy outward beauty and force themselves as well as others to love people for things that won’t leave at the first grey hair or wrinkle.   Beauty is fleeting; there is no doubt about that. People get old, they become less beautiful, and if they have lived off their aesthetic appeal their entire life, when it leaves they have nothing. Geek Love and The Most Beautiful Woman in Town attempt to show this.

It’s okay to be beautiful, but it’s not fair to oneself to only be beautiful.

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