Written by: Max Barry
Reviewed by: Rob Leicht
As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site (Trample an Empire Down), the concept of Max Barry’s Jennifer Government appeals to my tastes. Anything that involves the potential overthrow of tyrannical or capitalist governments is sure to grab my attention. And the dystopian landscape in Jennifer Government begs for a revolution. This book has been on my “To Read” list since enjoying Barry’s novel Lexicon.
The world of Jennifer Government is one of giant corporations that control everything in a hyper-competitive free market. Hack Nike (employees take the last name of the companies they work for) signs a new contract from the marketing department without reading it and is shocked to find the contract calls for him to murder teenagers as part of Nike’s new advertising strategy. This cascades into a complicated chain of events involving the police, the NRA, violently competitive rewards programs, and one extremely dedicated government agent. While Barry’s satirical take on peak capitalism and the dystopian society it spawns was interesting and original, the story is predictable, ultimately failing to deliver on its initial promises.
Short vignette-like chapters in Jennifer Government help keep the pace quick and tension high. This made it easy for me to sink into the world of the book and gave it the vibe of a comic. The writing itself is simple and unpretentious, which lends itself to the themes. The straightforward sentences feel at home among the advertising motif.
Jennifer Government definitely drags towards the middle and feels a little aimless. The novel finds itself again towards the end, but this does not add any satisfaction to the conclusion. All the individual story arcs are resolved, and the protagonists experience adequate character growth, but the world itself remains unchanged. None of the greater societal problems are challenged, and this left me feeling conflicted. In a setting that offers so much potential, the story ends up being mostly about a singular character’s personal vendetta against a Nike executive.
Max Barry’s Jennifer Government is worth reading for the setting, but the plot fails to keep its end of the bargain.