On the Docket: Company by Max Barry
Genre: Satirical Fiction
The Plot: When Stephen Jones is hired as a Sales Assistant at Zephyr Holdings, he is puzzled by the attitudes of his co-workers. No one seems to know what the company does. They all know that Zephyr Holdings is a holding company… but what does it hold? Apparently, it’s taboo to ask. The beautiful secretary drives an Audi, no one has ever seen the CEO in person, and Senior Management (capital S&M) rains commands down upon its employees without truly understanding the implications of its requests. When a missing doughnut prompts a department wide search, Jones begins to wonder who the heck he’s working for…
First Impressions: I had high expectations for Barry. Years ago, I read his previous novel entitled Jennifer Government, a biting satire of the marketing business in a futuristic world, and was absolutely blown away by his wit. From page one, Company was on par with Jennifer Government and did not waver for an instant. This book is laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knees, eye- watering hilarious. For those of you who work in a corporate environment, I think you will get an especially good kick out of Barry’s novel. He superbly and intricately captures the idiosyncrasies of corporate life with a unique brand of intelligent sarcasm.
The cast of characters is fairly large (Holly, Freddie, Elizabeth, Roger, Gretel, Stephen, Eve, etc.) but the reader never feels bombarded by their individual stories. If anything, you feel like you’re watching a mockumentary in which everyone is featured with the perfect amount of footage. Although there is an obvious exaggeration of corporate habits, you will feel vindicated when the villains are ousted and the regular Joe rises to the occasion, uniting his fellow workers against the evil Senior Management (again, capital S&M).
I guarantee that you will raise your fist in solidarity along with Stephen, as these corporate lackeys refuse to back down. They want a place to work that cares about their lives, not just the bottom line. They want an environment that doesn’t expect them to work 72 hours straight, just because. Together, they manage to create a successful corporate revolution, a rebellion!
Final Verdict: Well, what else can I say that I haven’t already? Barry is a satirical genius, in my humble opinion. The dialogue is needle sharp, the plot moves at an unrelenting clip, and I was very satisfied by what felt like an appropriately realistic ending (to a certain extent, of course; it is fiction!). If you need a chuckle or have a beef with your boss and need to blow off some steam, this is the perfect outlet.
Revisited in 2012: Has it been two years already? I can’t believe it! I read Max Barry’s Company while working at a toy company, so the bureaucracy seemed light years away. I could understand the satire and see its relevance through the eyes of friends who worked for the government. However, now that I work in a similar corporate environment, full of the the previously mentioned bureaucracy, every detail of Barry’s novel comes to life in a new and scary way. Although I’m fairly certain that cubicle life does not agree with me, nor do the politics, this book provides a much needed dose of comic relief. If you work for a company or organization like the one Barry describes, the best thing you can do to negate frustration is stop taking yourself so seriously. Once I incorporated this philosophy, cubicle culture became just a little more bearable.
Max Barry has just released a new novel entitled Machine Man, for which he has made a brilliantly unnerving book trailer. Take a look!