Managed Care
by Joe Barrett
Black Rose Writing

"'I mean, wherever we end up, it isn’t going to be any worse than where we started, right?'"

Three narrators tell this hilarious story about a 33-year-old man living in a nursing home who befriends two middle school kids when they come to volunteer at the facility. Frank moves into the nursing home when the director refuses to refund his advance payment after Frank's grandfather dies and is never able to move in. Elroy is a foster kid struggling through middle school with bullies on his back and a stuttering problem that keeps a target on him no matter how hard he tries to fit in or disappear. Sally is a snarky, depressed tween reeling not only from her aunt’s recent suicide but also from her father’s suicide when she was younger. When these three misfits come together, they forge a friendship and hatch a plan to take over the local Catholic church and offer the community a chance at real connection and cathartic release. But with a man like Frank at the helm, shaking up the neighborhood means devising outlandish plans that will disrupt the suburbs and shock everyone around him.

Frank is an imperfect, often inappropriate antihero of this comic novel. Despite his flaws, he is good-hearted and becomes a stand-in father figure for both Elroy and Sally who are adrift in family dysfunction. Frank does not offer an idyllic respite from their lonely lives, for he is often misguided in his attempts to connect with these young kids. However, Elroy and Sally are not typical kids, so they are drawn to Frank’s manic quirks and often bizarre behavior. They hop on this wild ride with Frank steering them all the way to hope, compassion, and a whole new perspective on family.

This irreverent romp is full of laugh-out-loud dialogue and a zany plot that ultimately leads with heart. Barrett tackles serious issues and themes like bullying, suicide, and loneliness while taking on institutions like the Catholic Church and nursing homes. The comedy does not overwhelm the satisfying message of human connection at stake in the lives of the three narrators. The antics of Frank will make you laugh, but his good-hearted intentions will make you cry as he cares in his own way for Elroy and Sally. Sometimes the best role models for kids are not always perfect, and the families people are born into are not always the ones they keep.

Fans of Carl Hiaasen will enjoy Frank’s prankster spirit and wild, careless attitude that enrages some and inspires others. One thing is for sure, Frank gets a reaction wherever he goes. Readers who enjoy family comedies with a touch of irreverence will love Barrett’s ensemble cast of misfits.

Comic novels are having a moment in the literary spotlight with the success of Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, Less, which recently won the Pulitzer. This recognition solidifies the value of the comic novel as serious business. Characters who can laugh at themselves and who approach the world with a ridiculous temperament that is somehow also tender and honest have something to say about the absurdities of life. Barrett gives a voice to that character through Frank and illuminates him even more clearly with the narrated chapters by Elroy and Sally.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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