Reason Wilder, the new mayoral candidate in Grand River, is a crowd pleaser. He has a certain energy about him that people love. There’s just one tiny problem: Reason seems to be a Frankenstein’s monster, and Gray Davenport is the only one who’s noticed.
Mr. Neutron, Joe Ponepinto’s debut novel, is a biting satire about the craziness and politics that go into elections. Gray Davenport, the beleaguered, unpaid campaign manager for Bob Boren, the underdog in the race, wants to talk about real issues, but everyone is swept up by Reason’s charisma.
Gray must figure out how best to expose Reason for what he truly is. Gray has a stake in the game: he won’t get paid for managing Bob’s campaign unless Bob wins. What’s more, his wife, L’aura, is campaigning for Reason. This is about more than just politics for Gray. He has to win Bob the election to earn his own self respect, and possibly win back his stone-cold wife’s affections.
Gray Davenport, a self-described “sofa of a man,” has trouble sticking up for himself. He calls himself a neutron, “taking up an area of space so insignificant that it was no surprise to be regularly ignored.”
One downside to the book, Gray heavily objectifies the women in his life. He plots what he can do to get his wife L’aura back in his bed (understandable). More problematic is Breeze, a woman who volunteers to help out Bob’s campaign. From the moment Breeze enters, Gray can’t stop fantasizing about her. He imagines that she dresses provocatively on purpose, to manipulate the male gaze. “No feminism for this Breeze, because she didn’t have to. No demands for equality. Doors were opened and chairs were held, jewelry and cars bestowed.” Yes, we’re in Gray’s limited perspective, but for a book published in 2018 the idea that feminism is only necessary for “ugly” women rankles. After a work meeting, he forcibly drags her into a porn shop, thinking it might be a fun and sexy way to flirt. To be fair, Gray is supposed to be clumsy and awkward in his pursuit of her, and he acknowledges immediately after the porn shop move that it was a gross and creepy thing to do, but it still feels a little incredible that a man in this day and age doesn’t recognize the move for what it really is – sexual harassment. In a later scene, Gray notices another man, Randy, hitting on him, and only then realizes that he has likewise probably creeped out Breeze. This book is a satire, but again, for 2018 this lesson feels regressive.
As a satire, Mr. Neutron delivers chuckle-worthy lines. Gray announces early in the book that “this campaign is about Reason,” but “Reason” is dead. Gray has worked the election down to a formula. “E=mc2, where E stood for the electorate, m for mass stupidity, and c for the craziness of politics.” The humor is fairly broad, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets West Wing. Fans of political satire should enjoy this book.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.