A Tail for Two Theorists: The Problem of the Female Monster in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love

  • Rajesh Reddy
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


On its surface, the present-day frame of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love captures the story of a mother and the daughter whom she abandoned at birth but whose life she wishes to improve and on the periphery of which she wishes to reside in secret. Complicating this present-day frame is the standing of the mother, Olympia (or Oly) Binewski, as a hunchbacked dwarf who hopes to prevent her daughter, Miranda, from having her tail surgically removed—a tail that, while little more than a stub, serves as a genetic birthmark that links Miranda not only to her biological mother and father, a boy with dolphin-flippered limbs, but also to the Binewski Carnival Fabulon that exhibited both parents to countless crowds decades prior. Clearly, questions of the body lie at the heart of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. Its present-day frame and bookended past events surrounding the Binewski’s family carnival are meant to pit markers of difference, or otherness, against societal expectations of and desires for normalcy. But far from seizing on this conflict in isolation, Dunn marries the struggles of the grotesque and animal Other with what she regards as a well-intentioned, yet pernicious branch of feminist ideology. The intersection of these concerns crystallizes early in the present narrative as Miss Lick, the benefactress who offers to finance the procedure to relieve Miranda of her tail, does so precisely because the stub is fetishized by men who exploit it as a reason, if not an excuse, to treat Miranda as a sexual object.


Sexual Object Psychic Distance Feminist Ideology Liminal Space Base Desire 


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© Rajesh Reddy 2016

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  • Rajesh Reddy

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