The Wilds is Julia Elliott’s first collection. Ami Tian says that in Elliott’s debut short story collection, “speculative fiction meets Southern gothic to create stories that highlight the fantastic strangeness of contemporary life.” Publishers Weekly writes: “The debut collection from Pushcart Prize–winning Elliott is a brilliant combination of emotion and grime, wit and horror.” The Caribbean appears in more than one of the stories, one of which is set on a nameless Caribbean island, Mukti (“Regeneration at Mukti”).
Book Description: At an obscure South Carolina nursing home, a lost world reemerges as a disabled elderly woman undergoes newfangled brain-restoration procedures and begins to explore her environment with the assistance of strap-on robot legs. At a deluxe medical spa on a nameless Caribbean island, a middle-aged woman hopes to revitalize her fading youth with grotesque rejuvenating therapies that combine cutting-edge medical technologies with holistic approaches and the pseudo-religious dogma of Zen-infused self-help. And in a rinky-dink mill town, an adolescent girl is unexpectedly inspired by the ravings and miraculous levitation of her fundamentalist friend’s weird grandmother. These are only a few of the scenarios readers encounter in Julia Elliott’s debut collection, “The Wilds.” In these genre-bending stories, teetering between the ridiculous and the sublime, Elliott’s language-driven fiction uses outlandish tropes to capture poignant moments in her humble characters’ lives. Without abandoning the tenets of classic storytelling, Elliott revels in lush lyricism, dark humor, and experimental play.
Here are excerpts (focusing on “Regeneration at Mukti”) from a review by Ami Tian: “Regeneration at Mukti” takes place at an ultra-chichi holistic healing spa and is rife with jabs, starting with its flippant first line: “Call me a trendmonger, but I’ve sprung for a treehouse.” Elliott breezily introduces the reader to the various treatments offered at Mukti, which include “leech therapy,” “kelp baths,” a “goat-milk-and-basil soak,” and “bee-sting therapy.” Even as Mukti is besieged by pirates, the narrator notes: “Certain therapies are no longer offered — sensory deprivation and beer baths, for example — but we strive to stay positive.”
Although “Renegeration at Mukti” and “Caveman Diet” (which contains a character known as Sexgoth, the belly dancer, as well as the delightfully loony phrase “club-fight-induced memory loss”) satirize the extremes to which people go in the name of self-improvement, Elliott remains disappointingly uncritical. In Mukti, marauders may lurk at the edges of paradise, but ultimately the threat they pose is a shallow one; nothing truly stands in the way of the wealthy spa-goers in their quest to attain hotter bods. “Regeneration at Mukti” ends in a moment of ambiguity — at the end of her treatment, the spa wrecked by a hurricane, the narrator emerges from her “Casing” as what may or may not be a new-and-improved self.
Julia Elliott is a writer, professor, and musician based out of Columbia, South Carolina. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House, The Georgia Review, Mississippi Review, and Best American Fantasy, along with many more publications. She has won a Pushcart Prize and a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award. She teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina and is the co-founder of Grey Egg, an experimental music collective. Her current project-in-progress is a novel on Hamadryas baboons, and her novel The New and Improved Romie Futch will be released by Tin House Books in 2015.
For full review by Tian, see http://www.bookslut.com/fiction/2014_10_020892.php