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The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia…

The New and Improved Romie Futch

by Julia Elliott

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a fun, psychedelic trip of a book, zany funny and hogwild. Enjoyable, readable prose, with a truly original plot. ( )
  irregularreader | Oct 31, 2016 |
Julia Elliott is one of those underappreciated novelists I love to discover. I will be a Julia Elliott fan for life. I wanted to read something with a weird science theme, quirky, funny, fresh, full of pop culture. This book is all of those completely. Romie Futch is a taxidermist in South Carolina, pining over his ex-wife he met in middle school. He sees an ad for intelligence enhancement at the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience in Atlanta, Georgia and signs himself up. Romie gets books downloaded into his brain with the help of nanobots. After the downloads, Romie combines his love of sculpture from high-school and his inherited taxidermy business to create "absurdist animatronic taxidermic dioramas". Awesome. Obviously if you write a book about geniuses, you must be a smart writer and Elliott is! Though written in first person, I thought there might be a difference in Romie's style pre and post downloads and would have liked to see a wildly different style of writing between the two. This might be explained by him trying to hide the intelligence enhancements from his friends when he returns from the lab. The experiments might be a little more darker than only enhancing intelligence... Then there is the giant flying hog. Elliott uses this book to satirize everything, but the redneck characters here are never cartoon caricatures of rednecks. Elliott emphasizes the dangers of science, though it was difficult to see where the science was going here(but maybe that was the point... aimless harmful science.) Plot points could have been stitched together better, but overall I adored this book. Elliott's writing is full and rich and detailed and just my thing. Books like this keep me alive! In the middle of reading this one, I had already ordered her short story collection 'The Wilds'.

This book reminded me of so many favorites. I'd love to see a list of Elliott's influences but in every interview she says there are too many. If you're a fan of Kelly Link and Karen Russell (even included in the narrative!) this is one that should be picked up! Here is a list of other books if you love this gem or if you loved any of these you'd probably love Romie (though this book is entirely unique!)
T.C. Boyle, Kiese Laymon, Victor LaValle ( I could swear there are elements from most of LaValle's books within Romie Futch)
Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer
The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac - Sharma Shields
Parasites Like Us - Adam Johnson
All the Birds, Singing - Evie Wyld
Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy ( )
  booklove2 | Oct 15, 2016 |
I didn't know what to expect from this book, but my friend the bookseller recommended it. Turns out she was right--this book was right up my alley and I loved it. "Part satire and part Southern tall tale" is an apt description. The narrator was wickedly funny in the way he stumbled through a string of odd occurrences that made me laugh out loud. Elliot's prose is smart and sharp. This was a delightful surprise. Fans of George Singleton and Karen Russell will no doubt find a kinship with Romie Futch. ( )
  lefaulkenberry | Jul 27, 2016 |
Thought provoking. witty and grotesque novel, jam-packed with rich language and dark humor.

“I felt a prickle in my phantom pinkie finger, a keening of imaginary blood. I felt a pain deep in the bone. As I ached for this lost part of myself, my missing finger became a synecdoche for all lost things in my life—women and mothers, youth and full-scalp coverage, soberness, and the bliss of solid sleep. Most of all, I ached for the future as a shimmering, distant thing.”

Romie Futch is a South Carolina taxidermist and total slacker who is down on his luck and still pining for his ex-wife. While surfing the web one evening, he spots an ad from the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience that might be a solution to all of his problems. They are providing monetary compensation to test subjects who are willing to "undergo a series of pedagogical downloads via direct brain-computer interface." Romie and other ne'er-do-wells agree to be part of this human experimentation, in hopes of financial reward and maybe a better life.

Romie returns home with an extensive knowledge of the humanities and a motivation to delve into taxidermy art, a creative outlet he abandoned after high school. He becomes obsessed with mutant animals, especially an enigmatic boar nicknamed Hogzilla. These results of animal experimentation are grotesque and a little revolting, as are Romie's dioramas!

Armed with new knowledge and a drive to create, will the new and improved Romie Futch be able to get his life together and win back his ex-wife? Do artificial intellectual or physical enhancements change who we are or our deepest motivations? Not really. (Right now, I am thinking of the scene in the bar with enhanced humans; Ned received a 21-year old's heart and a month later decided to celebrate his new heart "by eating a pound of fried bacon.") Think of impact of the Internet, all of human knowledge available at our fingertips.

…I'd picked my lot voluntarily, while the men surrounding me had fought battles against tobacco and diabetes, the Southern diet and alcoholism, carcinogenic pollutants and Vietnam-era hand grenades, not to mention the inevitable entropy of the mortal body--the slow smokeless burning of decay. Yet we all dragged our cyborgian carcasses across the trashed planet every day. We all chased various forms of intoxication, hoping to soothe our savage souls. I could see myself some twenty years hence, a gray-haired troll slumped on a barstool, my nose a bulbous mess of clotted capillaries.”

Julia Elliot constructed a strange, complex and somewhat nauseating world steeped in weirdness. A thick layer of grit and grease hangs over every scene. I pictured the setting and people as somewhere between Deliverance and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

It did take me longer to read this book than Anna Karenina! The pages would fly by while I was reading it, but the writing is so dense and punchy that I was mentally exhausted after each session. Julia Elliot uses such rich language and the story is jam-packed with macabre descriptions, strong action verbs and witty, darkly humorous word play. It may have been overwrought if by another author's pen, but the writing style suits this "southern gothic tall tale."

Random excerpt as an example of the writing style:
Trippy was troubled but still witty somehow, still rattling off streams of purple verbiage that was wine to my parched ears. We compared notes on blackouts, and dreams, hallucinations and synesthetic episodes, uncanny sensations and acute deja vu. Trippy, too, had suffered bouts of feverish, visionary creativity. He'd spent most of his post experiment time in his sister's Atlanta basement, sawing at his cello, noodling on a thrift-store Casio, composing experimental pieces that he recorded on an eight-track analog Tascam.

"Started off sober," he said, "sipping home-brewed kombacha, an ancient Chinese elixir concocted from fermented green tea. Then I upped the ante with bhang tea and goji wine, which had my ass tripping old school, heat in my flow, game in my tunes. Spent the wee hours grooving to the likes of Alfred Schnittke, Lindsay Cooper, and Sun Ra, constellations exploding inside my soul, white dwarves collapsing into pulsars, black holes evaginating into white-hot universes, dog. I was on a fucking roll."
( )
  tbritny | Aug 27, 2015 |
This is the best book I've read this year, hands-down. It's literate, funny, has an excellent story--and the main character is pretty much my age, so all of the cultural references are pitch-perfect (In Search Of...: oh, yeah, baby!).

Romie Futch is everything I wish Neal Stephenson's latest could be, or a William Gibson without the pretension.

I don't do reviews with recaps, but just for a taste, we have: transgenic lab animals; animatronic taxidermy; mysterious labs; Foucault's Panopticon recreated with mutant critters; men discussing postmodernists in the most awesome turns of phrase.

The language in this book is the best. Romie and his fellow test subjects riff on literature, etc., in a way that sticks in my head.

I'll be forcing this book on friends. It's the first ARC I read from my ALA haul, and Romie will be hard to beat. ( )
  hairball | Jul 4, 2015 |
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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.… (more)

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