four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
By: 
Max Barry
user_rating: 
0

A-CompanyMax Barry satirized a privatized American government in Jennifer Government (2003); here, he takes a sharp stab at corporate America. Stephen Jones, fresh out of business school, finds himself at Zephyr Holdings in Seattle. The trouble is, though he’s moving up the ladder pretty quickly, he doesn’t know what this prosperous multinational company actually does. While his placid coworkers worry about stolen donuts at morning meetings, Stephen is more concerned with the company’s purpose. But when he starts asking questions, he finds there’s no easy way out once he’s in.
Doubleday. 352 pages. $26. ISBN: 0385514395

Forbes 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Cubicle-dwellers and executives alike will find the offices of Barry’s Zephyr Holdings eerily familiar. … The mystery of the book, and of Zephyr Holdings, is so tied into Barry’s themes that it’s difficult to discuss the author’s conclusions without giving away some of the final twists—but it’s fair to say that if you work for a large company, Zephyr Holdings is what you fear is really going on, and if you run one, Zephyr is what you fear you’re actually inflicting on people." Michael Maiello

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s that [mother of a] twist that saves Barry’s third novel from becoming as drab as the office he describes and establishes him as one of the keenest and shrewdest minds in corporate satire. Rarely has a novelist borrowed from so many sources yet come up with something so utterly original." Henry Goldblatt

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In a book dedicated to Hewlett-Packard, which once made the silly, silly mistake of employing Mr. Barry, the secrets and lies of corporate culture are explored with sharp, absurdist precision. Joseph Heller did it better, but not by much." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Here is where the book really shines—in taking the same dreary spaces and human archetypes we all know, and distilling them down to a kind of monstrous purity." Douglas Coupland

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In many spots, Company is laugh-out-loud funny, its humor driven by all the pleasure that a true shock of recognition can bring. … In the end, this lack of people we should root for makes Company problematic and not wholly satisfying." Stanley Bing

Critical Summary

Barry, an Australian writer, cut his teeth at Hewlett-Packard, and he’s never been the same since. As Entertainment Weekly points out, his third novel owes a debt to The Office, The Truman Show, Animal Farm, and The Fountainhead, among others. Yet Company is truly Barry’s own absurd satire on office politics—HR and outsourcing and all. Critics overlooked some of the flimsier premises, such as repeated discussion about the missing donut, because they found the novel so terrifyingly real. Its generic characters are so common you’ll be able to put names to their joyless faces. Unfortunately, you may not muster up enthusiasm for them all—especially when you find out what Zephyr does.

Also by the Author

Jennifer Government (2003): In this "near-future" setting, citizens are named for their corporate employers—hence the slick moniker of our hero, Hack Nike. When he unwittingly agrees to a marketing ploy that kills teenage customers, Nike is forced to dodge the ruthless investigating agent Jennifer Government.