The Center for Fiction hosted a thrilling conversation about fearless literary legend Katherine Dunn’s newly revealed novel, Toad!
Upon its release in 1989, Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love captivated readers, earned a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and was nominated for the National Book Award. It is widely considered a cult classic, one of the weirdest, most beloved novels of recent history.
In one of the most exciting publications of the fall, MCDxFSG is releasing Toad, Dunn’s previously unpublished novel of the reflections of a deeply scarred and reclusive woman. A brilliant precursor to the book that would make Dunn a misfit hero and a refreshing take even fifty-some years after it was written, Toad demonstrates Dunn’s genius for black humor and irony, her ecstatic celebration of the grotesque. Panelists included author Halle Butler (The New Me); artist and writer Molly Crabapple (Brothers of the Gun), writer of the foreword for Toad; and Naomi Huffman, editor of Toad.
By Katherine Dunn
Published by MCD x FSG
A previously unpublished novel of the reflections of a deeply scarred and reclusive woman, from the cult icon Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love.
Sally Gunnar has been in love, has been mad, has been an agent of destruction, has been spurned; and now she has retreated from the world. She lives in isolation in her small house, where her only companions are a vase of goldfish, a garden toad, and the door-to-door salesman who sells her cleaning supplies once a month. From her comfortable perch, she broods over her deepest regrets: her wayward, weed-hazy college days; her blighted romance with a scornful poet; a tragically comic accident involving a paper cutter; a suicide attempt; and her decision to ultimately relinquish a conventional life.
Colorful, crass, and profound, Toad is Katherine Dunn’s ode to her time as a student at Reed College, filled with the same keen observations, taboo-shirking verve, and singular characters that made Geek Love a cult classic. Through the perceptive Sally, a fish out of water among a cadre of eccentric, privileged young people, we meet Sam, an unwashed collector of other people’s stories; Carlotta, a free spirit who nevertheless fails to escape the deception of marriage; and Rennel, a shallow, self-obsessed philosophy student. With sly self-deprecation and mordant wit, Sally recounts their misadventures, up to the tragedy that tore them apart.
Through it all, Toad demonstrates Dunn’s genius for black humor and irony, her ecstatic celebration of the grotesque. Daring and bizarre, Toad is a brilliant precursor to the book that would make Dunn a misfit hero—even fifty-some years after it was written, it’s a refreshing take on the lives of young outsiders treading the delicate lines between isolation and freedom, love and insanity, hatred and friendship.
Katherine Dunn is the author of Geek Love, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Prize, as well as the novels Attic, Truck, One-Ring Circus, and On Cussing. She was an award-winning boxing journalist whose work appeared in Esquire, KO magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Playboy, the Ring, Sports Illustrated, and Vogue. In 2004, Dunn and the photographer Jim Lommasson won the Lange-Taylor Documentary Prize for their work on the book Shadow Boxers. She died in 2016.
Halle Butler is the author of Jillian and The New Me. She is a Granta Best Young American Novelist, and a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honoree.
Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer based in New York. She is the author of two books, Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun (with Marwan Hisham), which was longlisted for a National Book Award in 2018. Her reportage has been published in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, the Paris Review, Vanity Fair, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. Her art is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art. Her animations have been nominated for three Emmys and won an Edward R. Murrow Award.
Photo Credit: Marina Galperina
Naomi Huffman is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, GQ, Bookforum, the Believer, SSENSE, and elsewhere. She began transcribing Dunn’s short stories, housed in the archives at Lewis & Clark College, in 2018, and is the editor of two of Dunn’s previously unpublished books, Toad and Near Flesh: Stories, forthcoming from MCDxFSG in fall 2022 and 2023.