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Company    by Max Barry order for
by Max Barry
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The satire on corporate life is as delicious as the mystery of the missing donut that threads through Max Barry's plot. Company takes readers on a journey of discovery along with Stephen Jones, an idealistic new hire (well, actually he's been taken on in the guise of copy paper) in Training Sales at Zephyr Holdings.

What does this generic company do? No-one knows, though departments seem to feed off each other like competing tribes of cannibals. Jones, seen immediately by his peers as 'so different', makes it his mission to find out, and the reader learns along with him. Along the way, he falls in and out of lust with the uber-glamorous Eve Jantiss, who's much, much more than the company receptionist her nameplate declares - 'She has lips like big sofa cushions, the kind of ancestry that probably includes nationalities Jones has never heard of, and liquid brown eyes that say: Sex? Why, what an intriguing idea.'

All kinds of hilarious repercussions ripple out from the donut theft, as well as from Jones' search for truth, justice, and humanity in an organization that rationalizes their absence with well-honed corporate-speak. (Barry makes clear he has this lingo down cold in comments like, 'It's essential that we strip out the fat, focus on our core competencies, and tighten our belts. If we do this, and stick to our guns, I'm confident we can avoid significant retrenchments.') Changes begin with loss of the company network - employees notice that 'discussions that previously required three days and six e-mails can, with phones, be settled in minutes') and end in revolt.

Though he doesn't give them much depth, Barry cuts to the chase in portraying his characters, as in this glorious description of a sales rep: 'If Elizabeth's brain, was a person, it would have scars, tattoos, and be missing one eye.' In this portrayal of an environment in which promotion corrupts, he takes aim at corporate lack of ethics and inhumanity, and blasts them to smithereens, setting the people free. If you've ever worked in a corporate environment, are planning to, or find their shenanigans entertaining, Company is a must read.

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