Jennifer Government, by Max Barry

jennifer-government-by-max-barry coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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Jennifer Government is the best novel in the world ever.” Or so the book’s back cover claims. Whether this is true or not is really beside the point. What is the point is how such a statement would surely make someone want to purchase the book and read it. It’s called marketing. And in today’s world that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Marketing. Hype. Style over substance. Doing whatever it takes to get the consumer to buy a particular product. One can only imagine what it will be like in the future, how far companies will go to grab customers’ attentions and make them want, no, NEED to purchase whatever it is they’re selling. And this, at its heart, is what Jennifer Government is about. It’s about one seriously over-the-top marketing campaign and the effect it has on the characters which inhabit the novel.

The setting is the very near future or possibly an alternate now. Most of the world has been Americanized and capitalism reigns supreme. The government has been privatized. Police and paramedics will not respond to a distress call unless they are sure the person in need of their assistance can afford their services. People are named after the title of the corporation they work for, people like Billy NRA, Claire Sears, and John Nike.

John is in marketing and he has come up with the perfect way to drive the demand for Nike’s latest tennis shoe, the Mercury, straight through the roof. And how is he going to accomplish this? It’s really quite simple. See, he’s going to have some customers killed immediately after they purchase their hot new tennis shoes, spin it so people think the killings have been committed by ghetto kids. Instant street cred. But John doesn’t want to be linked to the killings, he wants to keep his hands clean. Gotta avoid any possibility of marring his skyrocketing career. That’s where Hack Nike comes in.

Hack is rather unhappy with his life. He’s in merchandising and doesn’t make a lot of money. His girlfriend is unemployed and therefore isn’t making much of an income either. Hack could sure use a promotion. So when John offers him a job with marketing Hack signs the contract without ever reading it. Then he’s asked to kill some people. That’s when Hack realizes that this promotion may not be such a wonderful thing after all. Hack’s no killer. But breaking his contract, well, that could have some rather dire circumstances. So he does the only sensible thing he can think of and subcontracts the job to the local police to handle the killings for him. And in turn they do a little subcontracting of their own. Needless to say there are now way too many people involved in this little marketing scheme for John Nike’s liking. And then things go from bad to worse when Jennifer Government gets wind of what’s going down. Because, you see, when Jennifer is on the case she doesn’t quit until justice is served. Especially when innocent kids are being senselessly killed. Especially when the case turns personal.

The book’s story line jumps from one character to the next throughout its duration, a narrative device that could prove cumbersome but one that is handled deftly by Max Barry’s razor sharp prose. This book has it all: some laughs, a little romance, a number of interesting characters, quite a bit of action, and a whole lot of satire. Think Chuck Pahlaniuk meets Bruce Sterling meets Tom Clancy. Or something like that. My only small complaint about the book comes in its latter stages when the main bad guy devises a way to bring his nemesis, Jennifer Government, under control in a we’ve-seen-this-a-million-times-before plot twist. But even this cliche storytelling device is handled with such flair that it is easy to forgive its lack of originality.

So what’s the bottom line? Well, if you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced book that just might make you view the world around you a little differently after you’ve finished reading it then go grab yourself a copy of Jennifer Government. This is one run-in with the law you’ll be sure to enjoy.

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