(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselmann JUN 4, 2006)
Max Barry is the literary equivalent of Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Barry's books, starting with Syrup, are both humorous and ruthless in their send-ups of the corporate world, satires that juggle biting wit with suspense. With Company, Barry skewers companies that reorganize with a regularity that rivals Old Faithful. Protagonist Jones is a newly hired sales assistant at Zephyr Holdings, a company whose employees are not exactly sure what the company does, although all are sure that the best way to survive is not to question the orders coming from Senior Management. The company's mission statement is so vague that it could mean anything. The Training Sales Department, where Jones works, is embroiled in controversy because one of the reps did not get his morning donut, and there's talk of sabotage. To make things more tense, Jones innocently reveals that the training sales manager has been on the phone with Blake Seddon, a member of Senior Management. As Barry writes, "Jones is too new to Zephyr Holdings to see that a squall is developing here. The building is hermetically sealed, but Zephyr has its own weather: last Friday there was a high pressure center over the telephone sales room; tomorrow a cold front of layoffs is predicted to sweep down from level 2. Right now a blustery rumor is gathering strength in the cubicle farm." When top-performing Wendell is fired for being "involved in some irregularities concerning morning snacks" and for having commissions that the unit wants to use for its own solvency, the reps realize that the company has begun to punish good results. The panic that ensues has sales reps scrambling to sabotage their own accounts so they can keep their jobs.
Unfortunately for Zephyr, Jones has both ideas and ethics. He unwittingly uncovers the truth about Zephyr Holdings and moves from being a cog to one of the wheels. Barry's real genius comes into play as Jones gets so deep into Zephyr's real mission that everything becomes a mockery of itself. The players become the played, and the played become, well, even more played. In Barry's hands, the destruction of a company has never been so tongue-in-cheek. Here, a series of forwarded calls lead to the crash of the entire computer network, and, because someone must be blamed, the entire tech staff is ousted. Without a viable computer network, employees can't work, although, after the initial panic subsides, they are all too happy to pretend to be working without actually accomplishing anything. Mini-dramas erupt like pimples. As friends disappear from their cubicles, abruptly escorted off the premises by security, people willingly sever all ties with them. Conclusions, often based on nonsense, are whispered. In the midst of all this is Jones: fresh-faced, idealistic, ethical, and determined to do a good job despite the advice he receives from his co-workers.
Barry’s strength has always been in his absurdist touch, with individual scenes meaning much more than the characters that propel them, and Company does not divert from this winning formula. This novel's unrelenting mockery of American business practices will have readers alternately smiling and grimacing, especially if they have had even a small glimpse into today's corporate America.
- Amazon readers rating: from 80 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Company at Doubleday(back to top)
(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselmann MAR 16, 2003)
Set in the future, Max Barry envisions a future Max Barry's second novel, Jennifer Government, is a wild ride through the near future, when American consumerism and culture have consolidated much of the world under a single government. People name themselves after the company they work for, and the unemployed are easily identifiable by their lack of surnames. The novel opens with a bang when a lowly merchandiser, Hack Nike, gets off the elevator on the wrong floor and meets two men, both named John Nike, at the water cooler. Hack is offered a guerilla marketing position and eagerly signs his contract before he realizes he has agreed to assassinate ten people as a way of boosting Nike's profits. Meanwhile, a savvy and ambitious government agent, Jennifer Government gets wind of the plans.
To reveal more of what happens would be to ruin Max Barry's rambunctious plot, which bends and folds and ties itself in knots as the action heats up, involving the CEO's of other American corporations, the NRA, a disillusioned stockbroker, and a computer hacker named Violet ExxonMobil. Although not as hilarious as Barry's first novel SYRUP, Barry's instinct for the absurd remains intact as he serves up his zany vision of a world run amuck. The pacing is flawless, never letting up, always leaping ahead with new surprises, although near the end these constant turns of plot left me confused about where a particular character was, what he knew, who he knew and how. Except during one heavy-handed scene near the end, Barry breezes his readers through the insanity of his futuristic world with skill and confidence.
Max Barry fans won't want to miss this novel. This is an entertaining satire best read in a few sittings. You won't find any deep insights here, but you will certainly get a few laughs and a sharp-eyed look at America's consumerism.
- Amazon readers rating: from 195 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Jennifer Government at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- The official Web site for Max Barry
- The Complete Review on Syrup
- MostlyFiction.com review of Machine Man and Interview
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About the Author:
Max Barry was born in 1973 and lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is a former employee of Hewlett-Packard selling high-end computers and now writes full time. The original spelling of Max with two x's (Maxx) was done as a "joke about marketing" for his first novel Syrup.