by Katherine Dunn


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Here is the slim, stunning debut novel from the acclaimed author of Geek Love. Attic follows a young woman named Kay who has joined a cult-like organization that sells magazine subscriptions in small towns. When Kay tries to cash a customer’s bad check, she lands in jail, and Dunn’s visceral prose gives us a vivid, stream-of-consciousness depiction of the space in which she’s held. As Kay comes to know the other inmates, alliances and rivalries are formed, memories are recounted, and lives are changed. Based on Katherine Dunn’s own formative coming-of-age experiences, Attic was critically lauded when it was first published in 1970. Now, it stands as an extraordinary, indelible work from one of our most celebrated writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525434061
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/11/2017
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,224,605
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Katherine Dunn was a novelist and boxing journalist who lived and worked in Oregon. She is the author of three novels: Attic; Truck; and Geek Love, which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. She died in 2016.

Read an Excerpt


Sister Blendina was playing solitaire. I didn't know it at the time and I was wearing Dogsbody, so I swivel up to the counter with my brights on and smile a hot "cash-my-check-big-daddy-you-never-know" at the cashier. He reaches for me and I get ready to scratch his palm with my thumbnail as I hand him the check. Then there's something between his hand and Dogsbody mine and his fingers are wrapping around a brown plastic knob on a metal box and twisting-the volume comes on full. The timing is all mixed up and everything is happening much too fast all around me. The manager comes running up and examines the check and pinches old Dogsbody's arm and makes phone calls and asks my real name and address and all the time with his best Kresge's five-and-dime leer and waving toward the door as a crisp blue uniform comes two-timing through it. I stand musing in the midst of the lost Missouri slow and try to answer (the truth about my name and something else for my address—I live at 319 Liberty Street, Independence Mo.) to the uniform's eyes. It hits me too late that the rules for a straightforward-gaze-into-another's-eyes are radically altered when the other's-eyes are dangling on a chain on either side of his fly.
Seven miles away and twelve stories up Sister Blendina turns up a black ace and the eyes begin to move and grow. At that point I try to slip out of Dogsbody the back way but it's a close fit and they're too fast for me. The uniform takes one long fast step that puts him behind me. That gives the eyes time to become metal rings opened wide and moving in quickly each one closing with a hard click around one of my thighs an inch below the crotch. My stomach drops and would fall but it catches on my crotch and is saved (familiar fast elevator sensation like when Mama calls your name in that voice that means she's going to make you lie down and spread your legs to make certain your new daddy hasn't been diddling four-year-old you while she shopped). I clench my legs, and the heat fuses the two rings together where they touch between my legs. I'm instantly crippled-able to walk but not fast and all from the knee. Unable to escape from Dogsbody with the rear exit blocked. The gambit is a success but the uniform whips his fly open to make sure. The laser gun inside snaps up on a powerful spring mechanism. The uniform tightens his butt muscles and throws his pelvis forward. He bumps and grinds behind me-each movement activating the laser. The light pulses spray over me with a one-in-three red Kresge neon tracer for accuracy. I can feel Dogsbody sinking down over me in a puddle and the Kresge air is blowing in through the holes onto bare me. By the time he stops Dogsbody is limp. He tucks the gun back between his legs (tenderly 'cause it's hot) and zips up. Meanwhile I'm whispering frantically to Dogsbody trying to reactivate her: "Puberty!" (her Christian name) "Puberty." In my urgency I even summon up the old Moon incantation:
Abra Cadabra
Peanut butter sam
Pickle in the middle
Catch me if you can!
When done properly this chant builds from a séance whisper to a derisive howl and never fails to rouse Dogsbody. I can't give it the full whammy in front of the uniform so when it doesn't work I just have to go on without her help. The uniform gives me a shove toward the door and I just have time to pooch out tits where they would be if Dogsbody were on the job before we're moving. He puts his lover arm-like around me except where my shoulder is twisted to just before breaking. So we walk out the door—me hobbling along with the thigh-links working and Dogsbody just tatters flipping around me in the breeze.
Truck-truck-trucka-truck-whoosh! Out of the red Christmas Kresge's into the diffuse Muzak of the carillon bells in the square. We find a fat November Independence swarming.
Lots of lovers fucka-trucking down the street just like us. Lot of pinching and nuzzling and fondling going on. I kind of wrap D.B. remnants around me closer and snuggle up to the uniform so as not to be conspicuous. He bends down and nibbles at my ear and says "If you try to run I'll shoot you dead." I can feel his groin gun nudging me in the butt with every step and I know he's telling the truth. I smile up at him all cozy but I catch him chewing a bloody chunk of my earlobe and look away embarrassed.
The courthouse sits in the middle of the square. On the courthouse lawn is a merry-go-round. I see it just as we tum the corner and start poking out of Dogsbody in big patches. "Wow! Do I love merry-go-rounds!"
The uniform shows me his teeth and the volume goes up again. We're almost up to the crowd and Strauss waltzes are whipping in and out of the bells. Long lines of little boys and girls-each pulling a parent coil around the merry-go-round and the two little booths in front of it. They have to pass the booths to get to the horses. All the little boys are dragging Mommies, the little girls are dragging Daddies.
In front of the booth marked BOYS are three six-year-olds firing bows and arrows at their Mommies who are perched on benches inside with their legs spread wide. They each have four chances to get an arrow to the point where the legs begin from fifteen child paces. Daddies are sitting in the other booth while their little girls throw hoops over their wienies. If they don't make it in four tries they can't ride the merry-go-round so the Mommies spread their legs wider and wider and the Daddies sweat to rub up a good one.
A little blond girl begins to cry because her Daddy was so soft that the hoops slipped off. He blushes and tries to bribe the barker to let her on the horses anyway but he just gets a show of teeth.
Oh my! the merry-go-round! Forty horses with fierce white eyes and lips pulled back—tails and manes lifted by the wind that blew through the carver's fingers.
Riveted between each pair of carved rear legs a hard pink plastic wienie-eternally erect-bored in the ancient wood high up under each tail-a hole-deep and thickly lined with plastic sponge. Below each wienie a platform fixed to the floor-behind each hole a small seat hung from the ceiling.
But that's all me poking through—Dogsbody would point out that: As we approach the merry-go-round is stopped—waiting for a new load—the Strauss waltzes are still playing, the horses are still leaping but frozen in place. Between the time when my right foot leaves the ground in walking and comes down short because of the thigh-links a thousand incarnations pass in which the only movement is the merry-go-round keeper walking around each horse and jiggling the platforms and seats and spraying some liquid from a pressure can first into the hole and then over the wienie. When he is finished he opens the gate to a crowd of children. They all rush in screaming and laughing to pick the size they want. There are ten sizes of wienie on the horses—varying in width and thickness—the holes are smallest in diameter on the horses with the biggest wienies. Two little girls start to fight over which one will get the last horse of the biggest size. They pull each other's ponytails and kick and finally roll on the :8oor biting and scratching and screaming. Meanwhile a boy of about three comes up to the horse—feels of its wienie—pulls his short elastic-topped trousers down and lies down on the platform on his belly. All the little boys except this one are now perched in the seats behind the tails with their pants down. All the little girls except these two are now lying on their backs on the platforms with their skirts up. All the children have their feet braced in stirrups.
The merry-go-round is arranged so that even at the limits of the horse's travels up and down it never is not touching both the children. The merry-go-round keeper twists a button and it begins to move. Slow at first and then faster. The children are fixed in place on their seats and platforms and the horses plunge up and down and the whole moves around gaining speed in a circle. The two little girls are still fighting on the floor between two of the plunging horses and each time the merry-go-round comes around I catch and lose sight of them in an instant. With each revolution the waltz music goes up a decibel until all the other sounds are washed away. The parents standing on the ground are all nodding and showing their teeth and the children on the horses are holding very still but moving their lips and showing their teeth. I look up at the uniform for though we are not walking his groin gun is bumping my buttocks in time with the music. He is nodding and showing his teeth but when he sees me looking he stops and shoves me forward giving my shoulder a jerk and digging his thumb into my neck.
We move away from the merry-go-round quickly but just as we reach the street he stops and looks back smiling. Just then the music halts abruptly and all the other sounds in the square sweep back. Over them hangs a scream already seconds old. About-face-double-time-in-and-out-through-the-crowd-we've-just-left-back-to-the-merry-go-round-uniform-panting-and-Dogsbody-jouncing-on-my-shoulders-like-chain-mail-;oh-shriek-a-giggle-crane-a-neck-such-a-crowd-hmmm! And in the middle you-and-I old incapacitated Dogsbody so very with this bright young uniform splurging through to the center—the merry-go-round and who knows what Sister Blendina is up to?
And just off the center of the center—which is to say on the floor of the merry-go-round between the now stopped once moving horses—a boy. Or once a boy. Lying on his back, eyes closed—little trousers down around his knees-little buttocks flattened bare upon the floor-blood running from his groin. The uniform knows but he says:
"What happened?" and is deluged by answers:
"The horse behind his—the flaring nostrils—he reached—his thumb caught in the nostrils—oooh!—my poor darling—it ain't the company's fault! we give 'em all instructions—one horse went up and the other went down—you see, sir, he's so short—only five years old—stretched! a broken thumb—and he wasn't circumcised, I promised his grandfather never to—severed penis, cauterization indicated."
Because the chain on his waist was too short the uniform could not crouch down without making us both fall so he bent from the waist to pick the boy up—clump over his shoulder—-balanced with one hand. "Where ya takin him—shouldnya call an ambulance?—do you think he'll be all right?"
"Sure he'll be all right folks, now don't you worry. I'm taking him over to the academy. He's ours now. They'll fit him out with a laser police special and whip him into one of Mizoorah' s finest. Why fifteen years from now he'll be strutting around proud as you please and mighty glad all this happened."
All the smiles and nods and murmuring that goes on is left behind as we march off—me carrying Dogsbody and the uniform carrying the boy. We cross the street and walk up the steps of a large gray building. The boy's stump is dripping blood on my shoulders so I ask "What place is this?"
The uniform points to the roman caps above the door:
While I'm reading it Dogsbody slumps down even worse and her face slips around on mine so I can't see or hear or even breathe. While I'm pushing the face back into place we move along and some things happen that I can't be sure of. By the time I can see again, we're standing in front of a counter with people behind it. The boy has disappeared and the uniform is telling me to take off my watch and glasses and hand over my purse. I do these things slowly leaving the glasses until last because I'm watching one of the women behind the counter. She's sitting at a typewriter moving her hands very quickly. I can see she has a Dogsbody too-Mizoorah style-but in fine working order. She's looking at me and it must show badly that mine is out of commission because she doesn't look the usual hatred of meeting another Dogsbody—just disgust.

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