Martin Manning hasn’t left his apartment or had contact with another human being in thirty years. He’s happy eating his sandwiches, wearing his bathrobe, and watching TV. Martin is going to go on like this forever, alone, the proverbial immovable object.
Along comes Caseworker Alice Pitney, knocking on doors without apology. She’s an irresistible force starting a self-improvement program in Martin’s building, and won’t take no for an answer. If it takes a trial of absurd proportions and a ludicrous treatment program to make Martin into the man he could be and should have been, that’s just fine with Pitney.
Can Martin Manning stand up to Pitney, her thugs, Judge Sarnauer, and a host of others hell-bent on telling him what to do? He can. But to win this epic battle of wills, he’ll need to call on a lifetime of stubbornness and downright meanness, a patience rarely seen, and more than a little luck.
Mean Martin Manning sets its satirical sights on all manner of defenseless prey, including nanny state busybodies, sensitivity training, dog lovers, television talk shows, haircut licenses, aggressive doctors, political correctness, bloviating academics, demanding judges, and little tyrants everywhere. But not all is cynicism and bile. There’s also ample adoration for the joyous wonders of linoleum, preservatives, cold cuts, mayonnaise, frog figurines, bowel regularity, freedom, and sweet, sweet justice.
I wasn't quite sure if I was going to like this novel, but once I got into the story, the plot grabbed me and didn't let go. Martin, for all of his mean ways, is so relatable to anyone who lives in this day and age. Desiring to be left alone to enjoy his frogs and processed meats, all of that changes the day Alice Pitney knocks on Martin's front door. It seems several new laws have been passed while Martin has been shunning all human contact, allowing the state to decide what's 'best' for everyone. In Martin's case, Alice decides that what's best for him is no more processed meats, no more television, or clocks, or even the right to decide when the lights should be turned off.
Martin isn't taking this lightly though, and he's absolutely determined not to cave into Alice's demands. His creative ways of getting out of group-bonding events and other acts of sabotage left me laughing, but what really made me smile was what happened after Martin struck out on his own. His acts of revenge, and the final few paragraphs of the novel, had me smiling the whole time I was reading. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say that I should have seen it coming.
It's not all light-hearted reading though; there are a lot of serious issues inside this novel, several of which I've discussed previously with both "$everance" and "Junk." Zagorski and Martin both plan out acts of sabotage against the people in charge, although Zagorski is only fighting for his severance check; Martin is fighting for the right to wear a bathrobe if he wants to.
And just like in "Junk," there's a whole war on food going on, although this time it's not so much a general banning of things, but more of a centralized discrimination against the people that the state has decided can't make their own choices anymore. It's scary when you think that one day, someone in 'power' could decide that you no longer have the right to make your own choices anymore, that you aren't capable of deciding what foods to eat. "Junk" takes it farther, but still for Martin it's a fairly traumatic turning point.
If you're in the mood for a funny, sarcastic, well-plotted book with a side of social issues, I highly recommend "Mean Martin Manning."