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Jennifer Government    by Max Barry Amazon.com order for
Jennifer Government
by Max Barry
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Liz Cooper

Max Barry's Jennifer Government is set in a frightening version of the near future. Taxes have been abolished, the government can only pursue crimes if they can bill a citizen directly, and employees take the surname of the companies for whom they work. It's in this bizarre world that Hack Nike, a Merchandising Officer for the Nike Corporation, signs a contract without first reading it. All he knows is that he's being offered a promotion. The details seem unimportant.

And they would be, except for the fact that Hack has just agreed to kill ten customers who purchase the newest model of Nike shoes. Nike Mercuries sell for $2,000, and they only cost 85 cents to manufacture. Nike's Marketing Vice President figures that knocking off a few people as they walk out of the store with the new product will increase demand, and the company will make a killing literally. Though the book is named for one of its main characters, Jennifer Government shares the spotlight with a few others. Hack Nike, Buy Mitsui (whose real name was Jean-Paul, but he figured Buy would be more appropriate for a salesman), John Nike and Billy NRA are all involved in different subplots that culminate in several violent scenes throughout the book.

As I read, I couldn't help but think that Jennifer Government would make a brilliant movie. It seems to be written more like a screenplay than a novel. Fast-paced action scenes, short chapters and snappy dialogue take precedence over descriptions and background information. In fact, we never learn much about the characters beyond what they do for a living. The only exception is single mother Jennifer Government, and the few scenes with her eight-year-old daughter Kate are heartwarming and well written. Those brief encounters made me wish that Barry had given the same kind of depth to each one of his characters, most of whom were nothing more than pawns in a corporate world.

This is a uniquely fashioned satire. Max Barry's message about the corruption of large corporations and the danger of unheeded consumerism comes through loud and clear. There is constant action, with plot developments that are at times unbelievable. Don't expect any earth-shattering revelations into the state of our society, but pick up Jennifer Government and share it with your friends if you'd like something new to discuss around the water cooler.

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