With the constant ticking feed of bizarre news and breaking stories of nonsensical chaos, we are no strangers to the wackadoodle state our political climate has fallen into, regardless of which “side” you cheer for. At times it feels as if literally anything is possible now in terms of running candidates, extreme policies, and what kind of skeletons will come bursting out of closets next. Joe Ponepinto channels this atmosphere and adds a vicious sense of sarcasm, irony, and humor in Mr. Neutron.
The story follows Gray Davenport, a character as equally obnoxious and bland as the name sounds, as he leads a tragically frustrating existence in washed up Grand River as a consultant for the least inspiring candidate for mayor of all time. His life is stuck in every way imaginable: a distant, failed marriage, a joke of a career with zero pay or promise, seemingly no friends, and a disgusting habit of developing and fixating on delusional sexual fantasies that most certainly will never play out in his favor. I wanted to slap some damn sense into him throughout every page, but his inability to make somewhat decent life choices proves for one hell of a ride.
The cast of characters is a wild circus of bullshit and hilarity—individuals so absurd that, honestly, I feel that they might exist in the real world. Bob Boren is Gray’s candidate and a man without a decisive or passionate thought in his head and far too many trips to the buffet under his belt. Patsy Flatley is a caricature of a campaign manager, dead set on sticking to vague speeches as she bounces away on her exercise ball at pointless meetings. L’aura (previously known as Laura) is Gray’s wife, determined to express herself as an artist and too eager to kick Gray out and join politics in the name of Reason Wilder. Where to I even start with Reason?
A mystery candidate coached by a Reverend (who never stops creepily licking his lips) that is gigantic in size and pieced together like a modern Frankenstein. His odd charm casts the city of Grand River in a spell as he promises big change and opportunities to work together as a community with no specifics. He also is quick to retreat to an isolated mansion fit for a classic horror flick.
Just as Gray is ready to throw in the towel after the wasted years with Bob and the rise in support for Reason, in walks Breeze Wellington. Now, I found myself aggravated to the max over Gray’s non-stop drooling over this perfect woman. No matter how much I despise his puberty-raging obsession with her, I suppose she is literally the only motivation for Gray to get through anything.
Mr. Neutron is an exhausting and teeth-grinding look into the stupidity of politics, and I mean this in the best way possible. The characters are forever cemented in their crooked, ignorant, selfish, and pathetic ways yet will always jump through outrageous hoops to advance in the mayoral primaries. This novel comes at the perfect time and effortlessly keeps its metaphorical clammy politician fingers on the pulse of the current climate.
A quality that I find so fantastic in reading this is that I genuinely dislike every single character (except perhaps Randy, a generous outsider who befriends Gray and is a delightful representation of normal). My sarcastic sensibility appreciates the snide tones and determination to reach levels of ridiculous without hesitation. The third act truly leans into other-worldly science fiction and I cannot imagine a more perfect way to round out the story. This colorful collection of fools all suffer a sort of personal demise that I found maliciously satisfying.
Mr. Neutron was also able to hit the note on my fondness for extreme sensory details, and trust me, there are plenty of rich descriptions throughout. The smell alone of Reason’s swampy and science-experiment odor combined with Grand River’s polluted shores and the local dump is extremely effective. Similar to the overall subject matter, the smell of this story is sour.
Even though I was disappointed in the female characters, particularly Gray’s inability to think of anything beyond sex and the possibility that Breeze might have been a porn star at some point, I am not as harsh on the subject due to the satirical style and since decent human qualities are difficult to come by, except for within the ‘monster’ that is Reason. If you have ever wanted a humorously biting and oddly accurate image of the political world with a dash of horror/sci-fi tropes for added flavor, then Mr. Neutron is 100% for you.