book review

Jennifer Government (2004) | Max Barry

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This was a fun book.

In this hilarious and unnerving vision of the near future where the world is run by US corporations, people take their last names as the name of the companies they work for. It’s a globalised, neo-liberal free market utopia/dystopia, depending on your stance. Hack Nike signs a contract without reading it, thinking he’s landed himself a better job in marketing with better pay. Unfortunately for him, his new contract involves shooting teenagers to help Nike’s new shoe line rack up sales, and from there things quickly spiral out of control. Now the Police, the NRA, and Jennifer Government are involved, and Hack is in a lot of trouble.

The writing is snappy and accessible – even if you don’t know anything about stock markets or economics, most of it is easy enough to follow. The world is both horrifying and hilarious – a reflection and criticism of corporate America – but it’s taken to a level of absurdity that prevents it from being a true, haunting analysis of the world and what we value. Which is great! I doubt Max Barry set off to write a stark analytical satire of our world with this pseudo sci-fi dystopian novel. What we have instead is a fun romp of a novel that semi-believably creates a world where corporations run the world.

This is an easy read, though the book’s strength is in the world-building and not its cast. The cast is ultimately shallow bar one or two characters, but they are, overall, enjoyable. Jennifer Government (the character, not the book) was fantastic; a kick-ass, well-rounded heroine with a gun and a score to settle with John Nike (employer of another John Nike).

It’s not groundbreaking, or especially brilliant or breathtakingly awesome. It lacks the insights, brilliance and timelessness of classics like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, but it has its charm and its own agenda – you won’t confuse this for Ayn Rand or David Foster Wallace, nor does it pretend otherwise. It’s interesting and more original than you might think going in. Max Barry’s Jennifer Government is just a fun romp and a good read if you need a few hours to kill.

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