Caitlin Roper's 25th anniversary appreciation of Katherine Dunn's magnificent novel Geek Love manages the improbable trick of doing the book justice. Geek Love is a one-of-a-kind wonder of a novel, unique in voice, subject matter and emotional affect. Nothing I've ever read or done has made me feel the way Geek Love makes me feel every time I re-read it (it's a book I've loved since my teens). The feeling isn't entirely pleasant, but it's an important feeling, and one I need to get in touch with every couple of years.
Roper's piece features a rundown of all the amazing things that Geek Love has inspired in its quarter century, from the Jim Rose Sideshow Circus to mountains of weird and amazing fan-art. It also gives a glimpse of Dunn herself and the events that led her to write her wonderful masterpiece. I bought my wife a copy of Geek Love when we started courting. I couldn't imagine spending my life with someone who hadn't read it.
Literary agent Richard Pine had heard of Dunn from other writers he represented in the Pacific Northwest. When he finally got the manuscript, he was dazzled: “I thought it was one of the most brilliant things I’d ever read, and also one of the hardest books to sell that I’d ever take on.” But after a few months of rejection, Pine had a handful of publishers vying for the rights.
Everyone who worked on Geek Love became a titan of the book industry. Its publisher, Sonny Mehta, had recently moved from London to head Knopf in New York. Pine sent him the manuscript. “I was watched with great curiosity in the house, I suspect, because everybody was kind of curious about my taste,” says Mehta, who eventually became not just chairman and editor-in-chief at Knopf Doubleday but also one of the most powerful editors of the last quarter century (he published the seminal works of Kazuo Ishiguro, Douglas Adams, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton-Ellis to name a few). On a Friday, he asked a young editor, Terry Adams, to read the manuscript over the weekend. “I read it very happily, I came in Monday morning and went straight to Sonny’s office,” says Adams, now the publisher of paperback and digital at Little, Brown. “I was just overwhelmed by the manuscript, I said, ‘you have to buy this, you have to buy this.’” Geek Love was Mehta’s first acquisition for Knopf. “I thought it was a hugely ambitious, very daring book,” Mehta says. “I found it chilling, I found it moving, sometimes very funny, but I was taken by the sheer in-your-faceness of the whole thing, I thought it was brilliant.”
Geek Love [Amazon]
Geek Love at 25: How a Freak Family Inspired Your Pop Culture Heroes [Caitlin Roper/Wired]
(Image: Laura Park)