(Doubleday, $19.95, 321 pages, hardcover; published in January 2003.)
JohnNike orchestrates a marketing plan that involves murdering random buyers of a prestigious line of Nike sneakers. Jennifer Government, the eponymous hero of Max Barry's satirical thriller, is on to him, but to capture him she'll have to fight her way through a tangled plot that involves the NRA, consumer savings programs, and a corporate war.
The USA is a gigantic free-market zone that incorporates most of the Americas, much of Asia, parts of Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and parts of Southern Africa. People's surnames have been replaced by the name of company for which they work. Everything is privatized, including the Government and the Police -- both of which are proprietary names. Crimes are only investigated by Government or Police if the victims can pay for it. In fact, the Police will commit crimes for you if the price is right. Hiring the Police to perpetrate your crime is a good way to ensure they won't investigate you for it.
Jennifer Government is an entertaining romp that delivers mordant social commentary and suspenseful thrills, both woven into a cleverly convoluted plot. Barry's book is timely and provocative, well written and fast paced, funny and engaged, but never didactic. It's often merciless with its broad cast of peculiar characters, giving the correct impression that anything could happen at any moment, that no-one is entirely safe, and that everyone's motives must be questioned.
It's a shame, then, that the conclusion is such a let-down, so inconsequential. In the wake of the near-cataclysmic events that surround the inevitable showdown between Jennifer Government and John Nike, nothing really substantial happens. Barry sets up these spectacular fireworks, but then lets the whole thing fizzle out, sadly undermining the bite of his subversive tale.
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© Claude Lalumière 22 February 2003, 10 May 2003