Romie Futch has a failed marriage and an ailing taxidermy business. He decides to take a break from drinking and smoking his days away to earn some money participating in a study at the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience in Atlanta, GA. He’s not worried about the outcome, he just really needs the $6000. Thus begins this crazy story that’s part Southern absurdisms of George Singleton (look him up, he’s funny as hell), part Philip K. Dick (I think, I don’t read sci fi), and part X-Files (wandering in the woods with flashlights and scary noises). Throw in hunting for Hogzilla, discussions of Foucault and Derrida over tater tots, and dioramas made of taxidermied squirrels and then simmer until your conscious is heightened, you have advance knowledge of the humanities and you’re afraid of big pharma.
— Sydne, Atlanta
From the author of The Wilds, which Publishers Weekly called “a brilliant combination of emotion and grime, wit and horror,” comes a debut novel that is part dystopian satire, part Southern Gothic tall tale: a disturbing yet hilarious romp through a surreal New South where newfangled medical technologies change the structure of the human brain and genetically modified feral animals ravage the blighted landscape.
Down on his luck and still pining for his ex-wife, South Carolina taxidermist Romie Futch spends his evenings drunkenly surfing the Internet before passing out on his couch. In a last-ditch attempt to pay his mortgage, he replies to an ad and becomes a research subject in an experiment conducted by the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience in Atlanta, Georgia. After “scientists” download hifalutin humanities disciplines into their brains, Romie and his fellow guinea pigs start debating the works of Foucault and hashing out the intricacies of postmodern subjectivity. The enhanced taxidermist, who once aspired to be an artist, returns to his hometown ready to revolutionize his work and revive his failed marriage. As Romie tracks down specimens for his elaborate animatronic taxidermy dioramas, he develops an Ahab-caliber obsession with bagging “Hogzilla,” a thousand-pound feral hog that has been terrorizing Hampton County. Cruising hog-hunting websites, he learns that this lab-spawned monster possesses peculiar traits. Pulled into an absurd and murky underworld of biotech operatives, FDA agents, and environmental activists, Romie becomes entangled in the enigma of Hogzilla’s origins.
Exploring the interplay between nature and culture, biology and technology, reality and art, The New and Improved Romie Futch probes the mysteries of memory and consciousness, offering a darkly comic yet heartfelt take on the contemporary human predicament.
About the Author
Julia Elliott’s fiction has appeared in Tin House, the Georgia Review, Conjunctions, Fence, and other publications. She has won a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, and her stories have been anthologized in Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Best American Fantasy, and Best American Short Stories. Her debut story collection, The Wilds, was chosen by Kirkus, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and Electric Literature as one of the Best Books of 2014 and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She is currently working on a novel about hamadryas baboons, a species she has studied as an amateur primatologist. She teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where she lives with her daughter and husband. She and her spouse, John Dennis, are founding members of the music collective Grey Egg.
Romie Futch is imbued equally with the loopy lyricism of Barry Hannah and the whacked out paranoia of Philip K. Dick, the joyous farce of John Kennedy Toole, and the digital dystopia of William Gibson . . . .Elliott's rambunctious tale snarls and growls on every page, aiming to plunge its lovely gnarled tusks right into the reader's heart.
— New York Times Book Review
[Elliott] blends heady reflections on futuristic biotechnology with lowbrow goofiness and lots of good, old-fashioned Gothic strangeness. The speculative stuff may be fun and freaky, but the book hits its most authentic notes in describing the anxieties Gen Xers face when middle age approaches.
— Atlanta Journal Constituion
[The New and Improved Romie Futch] reminds the cynical, seen-it-all reader sometimes strangeness is enough. Elliott's work . . . contains brilliance.
Divorced from beautiful Helen and barely clinging to his business, washed-up South Carolina taxidermist Romie Futch hangs out mournfully with other loser friends. Then he answers an ad placed by the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience, located in Atlanta, which is seeking research subjects willing to have humanities data downloaded into their brains. In a bid to remake his life, Romie signs up and is soon using language that might stump a Ph.D. But all does not go as planned, starting with his homecoming blackout. Then there's the 1,000-pound hogzilla, another victim of lab intervention now marauding through the countryside, that Ronnie aims to bring down. VERDICT A send-up of self-improvement schemes and self-serving science, this wise and funny book by Elliott (The Wilds) treats its characters tenderly and glimmers at the end.
— Library Journal, STARRED
In The New and Improved Romie Futch, debut novelist Julia Elliott punches above her weight class, which is not to say that she can’t pull off the crackling inner life of a middle-aged, divorced, biologically enhanced taxidermist, but to say with admiration, she has.
A sad-sack taxidermist joins an intelligence experiment and instantly becomes a certified genius in this frenetically surreal novel.
— Oprah's Editor's Pick
In The New and Improved Romie Futch, debut novelist Julia Elliott punches above her weight class, which is not to say that she can’t pull off the crackling inner life of a middle-aged, divorced, biologically enhanced taxidermist, but to say with admiration, she has
The New and Improved Romie Futch is a wildly inventive first novel which not only contains some of the most genuinely funny scenes I’ve read in recent memory, but also contains some truly evocative, poetic prose that will make word nerds swoon when they read it. Simply put, The New and Improved Romie Futch easily ranks as one of my favorite reads of 2015, and I guarantee you’ll read this exceptional debut novel in one sitting.
Julia Elliott’s debut novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, zips between various genres, from Southern gothic to sci-fi satire, in a clever, wildly imaginative romp through the landscape of the South and the neural pathways of one man’s brain. At times heartbreaking and at times hilarious, The New and Improved Romie Futch announces Elliott as an undeniably original voice.
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.
— Publishers Weekly
The New and Improved Romie Futchnot only marks the arrival of one of the funniest, smartest, and most unnerving novels you’ll read this year, but also a vision for Southern literature that could only have sprung from Julia Elliott’s wild, devastating, and wholly original imagination. Consider me a fan for life.
— Laura van den Berg, author of FIND ME: A Novel
Julia Elliott may be a wizard, and I don't throw that term around with abandon. She proved to us with her short story collection, The Wilds, that her prose is like nothing you've ever read: sharp, hilarious, dark, and, expansive all at once. With Romie Futch, a book about a divorced South Carolina taxidermist who is haunted by his ex-wife, and arguably isn't taking the best steps to get his life back on track, Elliott has gone above and beyond with an eye-opening gothic satire that pushes the boundaries of dystopia.
— Bustle, Best October Reads
Julia Elliott’s debut novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, is its own baggy monster—with a literal biohazard monster, Hogzilla, at its carefully plotted core. But for all the postmodern genre-busting elements Elliott throws into her novel, at its center is the very real human heart of Romie Futch, a 21st century Everyman.
— Kirkus interview
Surprising and spiky and thoroughly enjoyable. Romie Futchis a wry delicacy of a novel, but also a wild boar--crashing and thrashing and swerving through unexpected twists.
— Lauren Beukes, author of THE SHINING GIRLS
Author Julia Elliott is awesome, and readers will cheer on both Romie and Hogzilla and then Google the author to discover her other books and her cool band.
— The Brooklyn Paper
The New and Improved Romie Futch romps wildly through a land of feral mutants and monsters of a more civilized kind. But at the story’s core is a heartsick man who believes he can be better. In this exceptionally imaginative and funny novel, high culture collides with low, the future torments but also soothes, and the grotesque beauty of our humanity shines through it all.
— Diane Cook, author of MAN V. NATURE
In her debut novel, South Carolina author Julia Elliott takes us on a freewheeling, Pynchonian adventure through the American South. Recently divorced and mortgaged to the hilt, taxidermist Romie Futch is a real mess. When a shadowy research institute offers to expand his mental capacity--and pay him a stipend for the privilege--Romie skims the paperwork and signs his name. But will cerebral downloads of art and literature help him win back his beloved Helen? Can Romie revive his taxidermy career by slaying the mythical mutant razorback nicknamed Hogzilla? And what about the side effects from all those downloads? With vibrant prose, quirky characters, and pointed commentaries on contemporary American life, Julia Elliott answers all those questions, and many more. Read Romie Futch, and you, too, will find yourself newly improved.