Managed Care by Joe Barrett might be considered a call to action against incompetent bureaucracy. Franklin Johnson loved his grandfather and had enough extra money to pay one year in advance for his grandfather’s stay in an assisted care facility. But granddad died just days before he was scheduled to move in. Franklin tried to get a refund from manager Ed Hardy but Hardy used lawyers to prop up his claim that he didn’t have to refund any money; the death was not Hardy’s fault. Franklin Johnson’s grandfather was named Franklin Johnson, the same as the grandson. If he could not get a refund, Franklin Johnson the grandson would move into the senior care facility and dedicate one year of his life to making the life of manager Hardy a living hell. Frank (the grandson) moved into the facility and demanded all services, such as the changing of his adult diapers. Frank’s job as a software developer could be done from anywhere. Frank worked from the Hardy Managed Care Facility at night as a software developer and spent his days thinking up situations that would annoy and irritate Ed Hardy. The idea was to annoy Hardy so bad that Hardy would refund his money.
Managed care facilities are bureaucracy. So are foster homes. So are schools. Elroy doesn’t do well in any of those. He hadn’t minded his former forty-year-old foster mom. She hadn’t tried anything weird with him. The police had either arrested her for buying drugs from college students or for bedding them. His current foster parents were the definition of senile old. He managed to avoid eating the frozen waffles his foster mom served with dish detergent topping. His foster dad forgot different parts of clothing on different days and both foster parents worried a lot about their biological son who had died decades before. Elroy was bullied at school, probably normal for the new kid who had only been there three days but had been set up by the popular guys so that he had to do community service as punishment for fighting rather than detention. His service was to read to a patient in the Hardy Managed Care Facility, someone named Frank who appeared to be too young to be in a senior citizen center. Elroy liked talking to Frank. When talking to Frank, especially when he lied, Elroy stopped stuttering.
Frank was in a state of self-isolation. Secure financially, he had decided to take on the world from a stance of principled superiority. Elroy was isolated from the world by a sense of hopelessness. As a young almost teenager, he knew he was never far away from a move to the next foster home under conditions over which he had no control. Sally was a twelve-year-old who had just lost her favorite aunt, Sadie, to a suicide. Living with a passive aggressive mother she hated, she was isolated in her world with one other person in her head, the departed Sadie. It was just a matter of time until Sadie and she came to an agreement on how Sally would commit suicide. Sally is also a member of the group of two that constitute the Rudolphsville Middle School Outreach Club (RMSOC). When she returns to Rudolphsville after attending her aunt’s funeral, she will meet Elroy and the two of them will work under the careful guidance of Dr. Sever, a pot-smoking ex-hippie who has somehow managed to secure a position as Elroy’s and Sally’s guidance counselor. The two will work together with Frank to form a new perspective on the Catholic church. They will change the church to become a more inclusive, more expressive, and relevant church than in its present, boring presentation. There will be alcohol, drugs, and hints of unrestrained sexual freedom as the two teenagers and the non-senior resident of the senior care facility combine to bring new enlightenment to the world.
Or maybe they won’t. Maybe Frank will be permanently committed to a mental care facility, Elroy will be shunted to a new foster home, and Sally will commit suicide. Readers don’t know and that is why we read the book. Throughout the entire story, there is a sense of humor based on absurd chaos and a lot of projectile vomiting. There is even tongue-in-cheek philosophy as Frank launches diatribes about his new projected socially fair world community. This is a unique story of trying to cope with everyday pressures. The only negative is a sense of unreality about the characters Elroy and Sally. They are way too wise for their years. This character exaggeration is necessary to support the quirky humor. I am on a roll with another five-star Amazon read. It has been a good reading week.