Review published on March 9, 2018.
Life is certainly not grand in Grand Rapids, a small American city with a severely polluted river and elected officials who are more interested in cash than questions. Similarly beleaguered is Gray Davenport, an extremely low-level spin doctor working for the least popular candidate in the Grand Rapids mayoral race. With negligible chance of getting his candidate elected and an almost certain chance of splitting from his wife in the short term, Davenport considers his life to be pretty much pointless. That is, until he notices that one of the candidates for mayor, an eight-foot tall enigma named Reason Wilder, might be something other than human. Somewhat reinvigorated, Davenport sets out to investigate the origins and appeal of Wilder.
Mr. Neutron is an extremely clever political satire or, at least, a satire of all things political, since it lampoons lobbying, campaigning, pundits and (wannabe) politicians in general rather than any particular political affiliation. The focus is on the US political system, but there is no need for any in-depth knowledge in order to understand and enjoy either the points or the japes that Ponepinto makes. The campaign shenanigans are grounded in reality, but the whole thing is really delightfully odd. But then, real-world politics are pretty unlikely right now too. There’s plenty of backstabbing, bribery, corruption and darkness, and that’s before you take into account Reason Wilder’s striking resemblance to Mary Shelley’s monstrous creation.
Gray Davenport is by design a rather bland individual (in fact, Ponepinto uses his characters’ names as an immediate introduction to their basic personality traits throughout the novel) who is prone to self-pity and inaction, which given his central role in matters could have caused the plot to somewhat drag, but he actually serves as the prefect “everyman” character with whom to explore the preposterous world of political manoeuvring and public opinion formation. Davenport never becomes truly likeable, although it is easy to sympathise with the predicaments he finds himself in.
There are plenty of crosses and double-crosses to be found in Mr. Neutron, which helps the story to move on apace. Ponepinto strikes a good balance between action and humour, between fantastical fiction and realistic social commentary. His dialogue is witty and his characters are predominantly engagingly awful. The science-fiction-like elements of the story are perhaps something of a surprise at first, but they serve to highlight the absurdity of much of what happens (and what could well be happening in real life) and the story hangs together very well. Ultimately, Mr. Neutron is a timely satire that is sure to entertain.
Jo Leddington 5/5
Mr. Neutron by Joe Ponepinto
7.13 Books 9780998409245 pbk Mar 2018
SECOND OPINION: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon