Jennifer Government, by Max Barry, is a dystopian novel where Corporations and Big Business run the world and the Government is a small player, usually relegated to playing catch-up. Our protagonist, Jennifer Government, is a Government agent who is out to stop the evil forces of “Capitalizm” after John Nike decides that killing a few of his customers might lend street cred to the latest and greatest Nikes. It’s the ultimate marketing ploy!
From the author's website:
“The world is run by American corporations; there are no taxes; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly-traded security firms; the government can only investigate crimes it can bill for.
Hack Nike is a Merchandising Officer who discovers an all-new way to sell sneakers. Buy Mitsui is a stockbroker with a death-wish. Billy NRA is finding out that life in a private army isn't all snappy uniforms and code names. And Jennifer Government, a legendary agent with a barcode tattoo, is a consumer watchdog with a gun.”
The novel starts off pretty fast, which is a good thing. My problem with a lot of authors who like to create worlds is that they can be so self-indulgent in their attempts to create a realistic (yet fake!) world that they drone on and on (kinda like this sentence) for chapters about "this land and those people" and then you fall asleep because it’s taking FOREVER to get to the good stuff. Jennifer Government has a lot of action and humor and Barry does a good job of not burdening the reader with too many details.
Usually with dystopian novels, the author attempts to raise awareness of some kind of potential future problem with society, technology, government, religion, etc. These kinds of books can sometimes feel like lectures, and Jennifer Government does have a few moments like these, but it’s the nature of the genre and it isn’t heavy handed. The big ideas that Berry is taking on here are consumerism and greed. So, nothing new or groundbreaking, but a rather timely book as the role of business and government are such a big deal in politics nowadays.
I really didn’t buy (see what I did there?) any of the characters. Jennifer Government was fleshed out the best, but still just a stock character. Every time I pictured John Nike, I saw this guy from the Matrix:
The rest of the characters were more like caricatures. But maybe that’s the point? Maybe Berry is smarter than I think he is and by making the characters shallow and stereotypical (the dweeb acts like a dweeb, the bitch acts like a bitch, the suicidal guy finds a reason to live (love!)), he is showing us what will happen to us if we let consumerism run unchecked! Yeah! Or maybe I'm just giving him way to much credit and he isn't that good of a writer. The dialogue was pretty lame, too.
I don’t think I would recommend this book to the average reader, but I would recommend it to fans of dystopian novels. This novel isn’t on the same level as George Orwell’s 1984 or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but it’s an entertaining novel nonetheless if you are a fan of the genre.