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Portland author Katherine Dunn, whose 1989 novel “Geek Love” influenced a generation of writers, has died at 70 of complications from lung cancer.

Dunn was a journalist – she wrote extensively about boxing – as well as a novelist. Raised in a blue-collar family that moved frequently, she also counted topless dancing and bartending among her many jobs. She wrote at least two other novels and many magazine articles, but it was “Geek Love” that made her an icon among writers.

In a 1991 profile of Dunn, Pacific Northwest magazine writer Linda Keene called “Geek Love” a “startling novel about love, mutants and mutilation among carnival freaks… It features the Binewski family, led by parents who manipulated each pregnancy with insecticides and radioisotopes to produce a clan of deformed but gifted children. As proprietors of a carnival, normalcy was not their goal. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.”

For many readers, Dunn’s characters symbolized a feeling of creeping dysfunction common in the late 20th century.  Keene wrote that “Lust, violence and deviance have become so commonplace in our culture that an irreverent but insightful writer like Dunn is needed to interpret the chaos… Dunn contends there is a killer or maimer in all of us, stalking our better sides, ready to lunge should just the right (or wrong) ingredients collide, be it romantic rage, financial ruin or religious frenzy.”

In an appreciation, Seattle Review of Books editor Paul Constant wrote that “‘Geek Love’ is one of those life-changing novels, the kind of misfit literature that inspires people to drop everything and become writers.”

You can find the full obituary here.