cover image The New and Improved Romie Futch

The New and Improved Romie Futch

Julia Elliott. Tin House (PGW, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (388p) ISBN 978-1-941040-15-7

Displaying the same dark whimsy of her acclaimed short story collection, The Wilds, Elliott’s first novel is a farce about a South Carolinian taxidermist hunting a mutant boar. Turning to the bottle and neglecting his business after his wife leaves him, Romie Futch answers an ad looking for subjects willing to receive “pedagogical downloads” consisting of the OED, Thomas Bernhard, and Derrida, and a number of other abstruse works. Like most liberal arts educations, Romie’s comes at an exorbitant cost: putting himself at the mercy of Biofutures, the sinister “mega-conglomerate” running the experiment. Upon his release, the “new and improved” Romie tries his hand at art, constructing a series of “postnatural taxidermic dioramas” that feature mutated animals he captures in the vicinity of a toxic waste dump. He soon develops an Ahab-like obsession with a monstrous, genetically altered pig known as Hogzilla, “winged and bald, nightmare beast of the future.” Though there is never a dull moment, the bursting narrative generates a sense of fatigue as we follow Romie’s mock-epic quest, desultory attempts to throw light on the shady Biofutures, and foray into conceptual art. The novel’s neatest trick is aligning Romie’s distress over his own future, which once seemed so boundless, with broader anxieties about what environmental and technological monstrosities the 21st century may bring. (Oct.)