Katherine Dunn, Geek Love, and Me.
I’ve just learned that Katherine Dunn has passed away. It’s difficult for me to process her absence. No, we never met. I doubt I would have been able to say anything intelligent at all to her if we had. I was in awe of her. I remain in awe of her.
Geek Love was a book I found at age twenty, a reprint, on a table in a bookstore I frequented in college. I picked it up because the title was odd, the jacket copy was fascinating, and the ink smelled a little peculiar, so I wanted to spend time with it. I bought the book that changed me in part because of an odd printing quirk. That’s fitting for Geek Love.
It’s the book that made me want to write. Before Katherine Dunn, I’d never read a woman who wrote with such force, who wrote women who were so forceful, women who didn’t bother with niceties, and writing that matched them. I didn’t know books could do what hers did.
If I could have a book in my skin, it would be Geek Love.
Fifteen years later, Katherine Dunn blurbed my debut novel. Blurbing, by the way, is an act of generosity. It requires time of an author that they should be spending on their work, on reading things that further their work, and on living their lives. Blurbing a debut author with whom you have no connection at all is literary altruism.
She had already been my hero, for the way she wrote and what her book meant to me. I don’t have words for how greatly that blurb affected me. How it defined something that I’d been struggling with–namely, whether I could write. With a few short words she became, to me, the closest thing I can think of as a literary saint.
The entire process of seeking blurbs is humiliating. You are begging people whose work and time you respect to sacrifice their time for you. You do this, quite often, via letter. When my publisher suggested that I write Katherine Dunn, I jumped at it. Because I’d been meaning to write her a letter for fifteen years.
Here is a bit of that letter.
Geek Love has long been my favorite book. When I say favorite, I mean that when making friends I’ve been known to ask a person if they’ve read Geek Love, what they thought, and based on their response determine if we can form a friendship of any substance. As yet, this practice has never steered me wrong.
Your writing reminds me to aspire to fierce narrators, Technicolor language, choices with consequences, and to embrace chaos. Regardless of whether you decide to offer a blurb, this is a letter I should have written you years ago, two days after finding your book on the shelf of a (now closed) bookstore and finishing it, bleary-eyed and smiling, wishing that I had thought up Olympia and the Binewskis.
Please know that should you decide to blurb The Book of Speculation, I would consider it a high point not just in the life of this book, but in my life as well.
Stilted, perhaps, but I was writing to my hero, who I was certain would never see my words in the endless stacks of mail. The sentiment remains true, and will for as long as I write.
I deeply miss a woman I’ve never met. My initial copy of Geek Love has been lent to so many people that it’s now out in the universe, never to return to me. And this is good. If I’ve left any part of myself in the pages she wrote, it’s all of the hope and excitement I had upon reading it, which is the best thing to send out in the world.
I am changed because of Katherine Dunn. I am more fierce. I am more generous. I am moved. And I am grateful.