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Jennifer Government: A Novel Hardcover – January 21, 2003

264 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the horrifying, satirical near future of Max Barry's Jennifer Government, American corporations literally rule the world. Everyone takes his employer's name as his last name; once-autonomous nations as far-flung as Australia belong to the USA; and the National Rifle Association is not just a worldwide corporation, it's a hot, publicly traded stock. Hack Nike, a hapless employee seeking advancement, signs a multipage contract and then reads it. He discovers he's agreed to assassinate kids purchasing Nike's new line of athletic shoes, a stealth marketing maneuver designed to increase sales. And the dreaded government agent Jennifer Government is after him.

Like Steve Aylett, Alexander Besher, Douglas Coupland, Paul Di Filippo, Jim Munroe, Jeff Noon, and Chuck Palahniuk, Max Barry is an author of smartass, punky satire for the late capitalist era. It's a hip and happening field; before publication, Jennifer Government (Barry's second novel) was optioned by Stephen Soderbergh and George Clooney's Section 8 Films for a major motion picture. However, the level of literary accomplishment varies wildly among practitioners, from brilliant (Di Filippo and Palahniuk) to amateurish (Besher). This field is so hot, its writers needn't be nearly as accomplished as they'd have to become to break into any other form of fiction.

That said, like many of his fellow turn-of-the-millennium satirists, Barry is uneven. He has a lively imagination and a sharp eye for the absurdities and offenses of hypercorporate capitalism. But, with its sketchy characters and slow dialogue, Jennifer Government will disappoint anyone who believes the cover copy's grandiose claim that this is "a Catch-22 for the New World Order." --Cynthia Ward

From Publishers Weekly

Free enterprise runs amok in Barry's satirical near-future nightmare: the American government has been privatized and now runs most of the world, including "the Australian Territories of the U.S.A.," where the book is set. American corporations sponsor everything from schools to their employees' identities, and literally go to war with one another. By taking a drink at the wrong water cooler, Hack Nike, a merchandising officer at the athletic shoe company whose name he bears, is coerced into a nefarious marketing plot to raise the demand for Nike's new $2,500 sneakers by shooting teenagers. Hank becomes responsible for the death of hapless teen Hayley McDonald's; he and two top Guerrilla Marketing executives, both named John Nike, are soon pursued by the ruthless Jennifer Government, a former advertising executive who is now a federal agent with a personal ax to grind-and preferably to sink into the cranium of her hated ex, one of the John Nikes. Barry tosses off his anticorporate zingers with relish; his sendup of "capitalizm"-a world where fraud is endemic and nearly everyone (except the French) is a cog in vast wealth-creation machines-has some ingenious touches. The one-joke shtick wears thin, however, and is simply overdone at times ("I'm getting rid of Government, the greatest impediment to business in history," says John. "Yes, some people die. But look at the gain!"). Barry's cartoonish characters and comic book chase scenes don't allow for much psychological subtlety or emotional resonance. Still, if it's no 1984, this breezy, stylish read will amuse the converted and get some provocative conversations going.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (January 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385507593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385507592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (264 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max Barry (1973-) is the author of five novels, including "Lexicon," the New York Times Notable Book "Jennifer Government," and "Syrup," now a film starring Amber Heard. He is the creator of the online political simulation game "NationStates," for which he is far more famous among high school students and poli-sci majors than his novels. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Beeblebrox on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Without rehashing the plot points of the book, suffice it to say that finishing "Jennifer Government" made me want more of what I had already read.
Max Barry states on his website that in the final edit, he cut about three-fourths of what he had written for this book, including one major character. After reading Jennifer Government, one wishes that he had not edited it so heavily. The book is a quick read - I finished it in about 5 hours - which is a shame for a novel which deals with such a heavy subject.
Character development is minimal - not surprising in such a relatively short book. True, Hack Nike develops a spine, and Jennifer gets even tougher than she was. But it would have been nice to have seen more.
Some plot points make little sense and/or could be developed better. For instance, why is Hack Nike such a sop? What is Buy Mitsui's background? If the Government is so ineffectual, why was John Nike (the one who didn't get crumpet-toastered) so keen on getting rid of it once and for all?
Also, it would have been interesting to see Barry bring what appeared to be a nascent anti-corporate movement to a bit of closure. The guerilla-style attacks on billboards and McDonald's restaurants seem to do little for plot development except to throw in some routine leftist slogans. I would have enjoyed seeing how this movement would have disrupted (or lent to) the growing intra-corporate battles.
All this aside, the book made me consider my libertarian/free-market principles in a way I had never done before. Science fiction is full of anarcho-capitalist fantasies (viz. L. Neil Smith's "The Probability Broach") which portray such a society as more or less Utopian.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By K. Bloom on February 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you've gotten this far in the reviews, you already know the plot to "Jennifer Government", a book well-descended from Kornbluth and Pohl, "The Space Merchants", and striving toward Sheckley's classic "Victim Prime". There aren't a lot of funny science fiction novels in print, and the most successful combine an insightful backdrop with snappy dialog. "Jennifer Government" makes it partway, on both counts. In the novel, the Police and Government are both companies with a certain amount of residual brand loyalty, while the NRA has the best shooters. When the Police want kids shot, they hire the NRA, as opposed to the Government, who, with 20,000 agents in place, seem to be unable to do much of anything competently, including preventing murders that they have advance knowledge of. In order to "solve" the killings, they require advance funding from the victim's family. (Remember the desk sergeant in "Heavy Metal"?) There aren't really any characters to identify with, which doesn't necessarily hurt if you want to make your ideas the funny part---which happens often enough in "Jennifer Government" to make it a worthwhile read, even though you have to get over Your Primitive Desire for a "Plot" of some kind. Thanks to Bob, I have no need for artificial constructs of this kind.
Given Barry's level of wit, as seen on his site, I expected a lot more from the book than it delivered. There's a lot of cool ideas that don't really go as far as you'd hope, and though that may leave us wanting more (the key to good writing, according to Dickens) we don't want to pay hardcover prices for it. Still, it's worth having this one in your collection, and encouraging worthy Oz writers, so buy the paperback. Look for more from Max Barry, I have a hunch his next will be better yet.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Hefele on June 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Government was a fun, light, satire of capitalism. It is very plot-driven, and as the novel unfolds you just have to smile at Barry's wry and dystopian view of the future. Privatized governments, frequent flyer programs causing major corporations to form two competing "teams" at war with one another, bar-code tatoos, and other details make the book a clever satire of what Barry calls "capitalizm."
The book itself is organized in very short chapters (2-5 pages each, typically) and Max Barry's prose is a bit plain, but it gets the job done. As I said, the book is very plot-driven, and it moves quickly. The book will be easily adapted to become a big-time blockbuster movie, if it ever comes to that -- it's filled with the requisite shoot-outs, superficial dialogue, an cliche'd characters. But it's all in good fun. Overall, I'd recommend the book as a light summer read. I polished it off on a long plane ride, and it made the trip pass quickly & enjoyably.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Patrick A. Hayden on January 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The premise of "Jennifer Government" is that corporations now control the world, for all practical purposes. The USA has deregulated everything and now people are defined by who they work for, literally. They take there last names from their companies, which we learn when introduced to one of the protagonists of this little satire named Hack Nike. Guess what he does? Basically the story, situated in Melbourne, Australia, but also covering LA and London, starts out with Hack being approached by two Nike Marketing men, John Nike and John Nike. They offer him a promotion to marketing, and he readily signs the contract, not reading the part that requires him to kill 10 people in order to build "street cred" for Nike's newest pair of $2500 sneakers. Hack goes to the police for help, but they end up actually convincing him to subcontract the hit to them, and they subcontract it to the NRA, now a fully armed and operational rifle association. This sets the whole story in motion, and the story, for what it is, is well told. Jennifer Government, a Government agent with a grudge against one of the John Nike's, is brought in to solve the Nike Store murders. Other tales are woven through this plot, and they all end up basically where they started. It's an entertaining ride, but an empty one.
The story moves quickly, and has moments of pure hilarity, such as what corporate competiton would become when things like murder aren't prosecuted unless the victim's family can pony up the loot to pay the cops to investigate it. But the message the Barry wants to send, that corporations are cutthroat and evil, is undermined by the fact that there is really only one corporate antagonist, and he seems to do things without authorization.
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