A small city mayoral race takes some strange turns when a freakish creature dominates the race.
Former journalist Gray Davenport’s life is about as exciting as his nondescript name. Campaign consultant to a perennial also-ran who's floundering again in a three-man race for mayor of Grand River, a pollution-drenched West Coast city whose government is controlled by a cabal of shadowy businessmen, pulling the strings from the local gated community, he’s drowning in self-pity, not least because his marriage to an aspiring (if untalented) artist, fond of Jackson Pollock–like paint splatters, is crumbling. When Reason Wilder, an 8-foot-tall candidate who bears a striking resemblance to a famous 19th-century literary monster, captures the imagination of Grand River’s citizens, with his vaguely populist claims to offer “A way of the people. A way that reflects us all,” Gray sets out to unravel the mystery behind his appeal. That effort (and Gray’s emotional life) is complicated after the alluring Breeze Wellington, a marketing expert with a previous life as a porn star, appears in town and thrusts herself into a campaign that’s soon noteworthy for its deception and betrayal. Ponepinto’s (Curtain Calls, 2015) style doesn’t lack wit or an apt turn of phrase capable of evoking an audible chuckle, as when he describes the “astrologically-themed downtown grid” of Grand River that produces a street named “Cancer Boulevard,” but those talents only carry this uneven novel so far. There are sufficient twists to keep the plot energized, but the pallid protagonist eventually becomes more irritating than sympathetic. Ponepinto has some definite ideas about the flaws of the democratic process—notably, how easy it is to manipulate public opinion—but he wobbles between satirizing the shortcomings of political life and exploring the science-fiction elements of Reason’s existence, including the machinations of the corrupt genius who created him, without fully committing to either story. That structural flaw becomes especially apparent as the novel lurches toward its bizarre climax.
A political satire wanders off course after a promising start.