Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

publication date: 2003
pages: 320
ISBN: 0-385-50759-3

What would the US look like if it was completely privatized? In Jennifer Government, Max Barry answers that question and creates a world that seems fantastical but is actually not too different from our own. Schools are run by corporations, the NRA and Police are just guns for hire, and everyone takes as their last name the organization they currently work for.

In an absurd and even wacky plot, the book follows Jennifer Government, an agent for the government, as she attempts to solve a murder probably perpetrated by Nike to sell more shoes. There is a supporting cast of characters, including unsteady Hack Nike and unintelligent Billy NRA.

Two of the characters – suits who work for Nike – are especially vivid, and funny. Max Barry does a great job at making me really, really hate them, with their corporate-speak and concern only for profits. Here’s their introduction to Hack Nike:

The suits looked at each other. . . . Then they stuck out their hands. “I’m John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Operative, New Products.”

“And I’m John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Vice-President, New Products,” the other suit said.

John and John Nike – don’t you hate them just a little bit already?

After the two Johns order Hack to do something illegal and instead he tells the Police, here is the response they give to Hack when he admitted what he did:

“Shh,” Vice-President John said. “It’s okay, Hack. Now we’re getting somewhere. I mean obviously none of this is good, from a big-picture point of view. Overall, it’s very fucked, a commercial-in-confidence arrangement getting spread all over the place. But on the individual level, as far as our relationship goes, Hack, I’m very pleased you’re being straight with me. . . . Everyone wants to outsource these days. No one has any respect for core competencies.”

“Big-picture,” “core competencies,” now don’t you hate them a lot?

Max Barry certainly makes John and John Nike, and the corporate world they live in, very dynamic and intense. However, most of the book is clunky and even tiresome. The writing is rushed but the plot was repetitive. The ending is especially unsatisfying. Only a few characters even had an ending, and the dystopian world that Barry creates is never addressed or dealt with.

Although the setting and plot of extreme privatization and stockholder greed is topical, and perhaps even inevitable, what I noticed and remember most from the book is the blunt writing and uninspired characters.

3/6: more good than bad

Other reviews:

New York Times
The Guardian
SF Signal

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