this is by far one of the best books i’ve read of all time, ever. it is a fantabulous buffet of imagery and story. it is a beautiful book, and i am stunned by her work. I’m off to go find more Dunn books on half.com.
the story is of a family of traveling carnival freaks, but the twists that the book explores go far beyond typical carnie life. The children are intentionally produced with genetic abnormalities brought on by various toxic substances the mother ingests during pregnancy. The resulting children are empowered by their oddity and revel in their uniqueness. Arty, the eldest, inadvertently creates a cult sect that amputates limbs in order to achieve his cocky high self esteem. he preaches that in being like him, you leave behind the hurt of the world. his followers in a way take over the carnival and turn it into a traveling cult. this older brother manipulates the rest of the family, who adore him totally and follow his every whim. eventually, his ill thought out schemes destroys their world, leaving the narrator struggling to save her daughter from a change that would deprive herself of her unique genetic gift from the family.
The story itself is fascinating… it is utterly intriguing to meet the characters and see what events they face in their familiarly odd little world. but the book goes beyond that, and is nearly painful to read, haunting in its humanity, and the need we have to love and be loved.
the story begins with a family living in rural china in the ’20’s. they are doing well… the main character and husband owns land and farms it lovingly in order to provide for his family. They have enough… and then the weather turns, impoverishing them. Eventually, they must leave their land and their home for the city. life is hard, and right now the husband and wife are thinking about selling their little daughter in an attempt to climb out of their dark world of hunger and cold. It just breaks my heart… i think of how beautiful the little baby girl must be, and i feel the devastation of such a position.
The book is remarkably touching… this man works his life to bring about goodness and wealth for his family through the security of land ownership. The man struggles to find refinement in his life and surroundings, and is a success at bringing a new level of life to his family. He does build quite a land hold, to the point where he cannot farm it, and must hire workers. Eventually he rents the land out to neighbors for a portion of their take. The tragedy here is that his sons, whom he has struggled to raise and educate and provide a higher quality of life for, plot to sell the land as the man ages towards death. They do not understand the value of the land to themselves, and to their father.
there is one other bit of tragedy in the book. The man has a first wife, Olan, who he does not appreciate. throughout the book she works hard and gives to the man and the family, and gets little in return. as she lies dying, the man is saddened by his lack of appreciation of Olan, and recognizes too late what work she has done. This is a solemn reminder to all of us that we often do not appreciate what we have at hand until it is gone.