“‘Yes, some people died. But let’s not pretend these are the first people to die in the interests of commerce. Let’s not pretend there’s a company in this room that hasn’t had to put profit above human life at some point. We make cars we know some people will die in. We make medicine that carries a chance of a fatal reaction. We make guns. I mean, you want to expel someone here for murder, let’s start with the Philip Morris Liaison. We have all, at some time, put a price tag on a human life and decided we can afford it. No one in this room has the right to sit here and pretend my actions came out of the blue.”
“Jennifer Government” by Max Barry”
In Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, we are given a glimpse of the near future where corporations have taken over nearly everything. It is an extended America, where a sort of capitalistic imperialism has taken over a good portion of the world. Decisions are made by CEOs in charge of well-known companies. One’s identity is intrinsically tied to what they do, though not in the sense of occupation or trade, but merely by which company you work for. I, for example, would have the fetchingly catchy name of Laura Teavana-Macy’s, while my roommate would be known as Elaine Illinois State Tollway. Even schools are corporate-owned, and the students adopt the name of which company owns their school: Kate Mattel, Hailey McDonald’s, Jose Burger King. You get the idea.
Needless to say, our protagonist, Jennifer, works for the government. This was not always the case with Jennifer, but now she is a strong willed single mother willing to fight to even the balance just a little bit between the big corporations and the everyday Average Joe Wal-Mart. Everything explodes when a rogue campaign for Nike goes awry: the brains behind the operation, John Nike, has hired random hack Hack (thus making him appropriately named) to kill ten people who purchase their big new product on the day it releases, to start up a frenzy that drives the value of the shoes even higher. Hack’s not too comfortable with this, so he ends up outsourcing the job, which leads to a whole lot of trouble, things going out of control, and Jennifer witnessing the event and craving justice.
I do really love the concept of this book, but I was unimpressed with both the writing style and Barry’s inability to structure a truly believable story. The writing feels mostly amateur, and the characters seem either one-dimensional or extremely unlikely. If, let’s say, the antagonist of John Nike were a smooth, clever, likeable fellow, I could easily buy that he could inspire a whole swarm of corporations to declare actual shoot-them-and-bomb-them war on their competition and the Government, but he isn’t. He’s a cocky, smarmy little bastard who makes no attempt to even seem remotely charming, and I’m left flabbergasted as to how anyone would even let him through their doors, much less lead them. None of the characters really feel that believable or seemed to have much respectability. The only character I even seemed to like much was Buy Mitsui, and I think that was mostly because he showed a little bit of appeal while the others showed none. The corporate world Barry has built is believable (corporate sponsored school, anyone?); it’s just that that individuals who people that world are not.
My main guff, though, is definitely in how John Nike was completely unbelievable as an antagonist. The book feels a little lazily written and I feel that so much more could have been done with it. I hear that George Clooney has been optioning to do a film version of Jennifer Government, and I feel this is one of those rare cases when I would walk away much preferring the film to the book. It’s written to be a film, I believe, and not so much of a literary gem.
I’m not about to spew a bunch of criticism and not put my money where my mouth is. Off I go, to return to my own book about corruption in society and hopefully I’ll manage it at least a little bit better. Jennifer Government is an interesting read; it’s at times pretty entertaining, too, but, for all the interesting comments it’s trying to make about capitalism, I’d toss it right into the pure brain candy file. Small and sweet, but with absolutely no nutritional value.
Books read: 38 out of 100.