I was saddened to hear of the death of Katherine Dunn. I only recently read her “underground” novel, Geek Love. While it may not be what is conventionally considered horror, it is still a horrifying book–in only the best way.
In Geek Love, the owner of a struggling carnival and his wife decide to “create” their own sideshow attractions by experimenting with drugs, radiation, and the like during pregnancy. With that outlandish premise, Dunn leads us through the tent flap and, gradually, deeper and deeper into the bizarre and isolated world of the traveling carnival that incubates the Binewski children. The five children are Arty, born with flippers for arms and legs; the conjoined twins Elly and Iphy; the narrator, an albino hunchback dwarf named Olympia; and baby Chick, with the most special powers of all. As they grow up, separated from the world, never really sure where the carnival actually is at any particular time, and constantly reinforced with how special they are when compared to the “norms,” a certain warping is bound to occur. We are fully ensnared by this time as Dunn gradually ratchets up the horror, introducing more demented characters and increasingly grotesque elements, but we’ve paid our money and we’re going to look. Even as we silently think that she can’t go there, that is indeed where Dunn chooses to go. A finalist for the National Book Award, Geek Love is not at all a safe book. I highly recommend it.