This surreal fantasy finds a woman legally bound to a short, hairy man of unknown origin.
Ella Pearson lives in the City, though she’d love nothing more than to farm or roam the beach. She’s a marketing executive, dating a kind (if oblivious) man named Andy, whose young daughter, Clara, loves to tinker with broken appliances. One night, having decided to break up with Andy, Ella returns to their apartment to find someone in Clara’s room. The intruder is “exceptionally hairy, but so diminutive, with pudgy cheeks, as though he were equal parts chipmunk and man.” Ella wonders if her prescription of Represitol hasn’t triggered hallucinations or paranoia but calls the police anyway. When it’s revealed that Clara let the caveman inside the apartment, the police tell Ella that his removal is now a task for Social Services. Meanwhile, someone has vandalized the Temple of the First Assembly, and Ella’s firm, CCI, helps with the church’s response. When Ella’s boss, Warner, notices her exhaustion, he suggests a vacation to East Gish, her hometown. Later, she finds a picture of a childhood friend, Timmy Crace, and wonders why she barely recalls him. In his absurd, endearing tale, Rau (The Ghost, Josephine, 2015) pokes fun at religion, officialdom, and parenthood while examining life’s larger questions. His vicious sense of humor, clearly not intended to please everyone, is incisive, as when churchgoers fill the pews “with the rote order of overfed livestock.” The author’s dedication to portraying bureaucracy as inane is commendable, to the point where the reader wishes Ella would just slap Agent Sickens from the Office of Sentient Affairs (“Ms. Pearson, if that’s what the file says, then that’s where you live”). As a nightmarish plot surrounds Ella, she learns to detest the caveman (eventually named Ernie) less and less. Rau succeeds in drawing readers into his woolly world, but the audience will need patience while the narrative gropes for a stopping point.
A conspiracy story buoyed by childlike weirdness and heart.