Book Review: Jennifer Government by Max Barry

I discovered Jennifer Government in an odd and roundabout way. First, there is this high school kid at my work, Bradley. He told me about this text-based internet game he plays called Nation States. I was intrigued, so I started to play it as well. It was a lot of fun. After snooping around on the site one day, I noticed that this game was based on a book. I found it on Amazon, and bought it, but did not read it for quite some time. It was merely added to the shelf on my bookcase of books I plan on reading someday.

During my recent reading binge, I decided to pick it up and give it a shot. Holy hell. What a wild ride! It made me laugh out loud several times. I could picture the action scenes well. I definitely enjoyed this book.

The premise lies in the not-too-distant future, where the USA has mostly taken over the world, but not by government—they’ve done it with corporations. The “government” has very little power, and executives run the world. Every man and woman takes the name of their employer as their last name. Every child takes the last name of their school, which are all run by corporations. Unemployed persons have no last name.

Hack Nike is a lowly merchandising officer, who gets roped into a scheme cooked up by a couple of marketing executives. They force him to sign a bulky contract without letting him read it. He knows he shouldn’t, but does it anyway. After he signs it, he finds out that he’s just agreed to kill ten people who buy the latest Nike shoes. They want the shoes to look more popular, so that they’ll sell even more.

Hack freaks out and goes to the police. But they, too, are just another company that makes him sign a different agreement that will contract out the killings to them. In a way, they’ve just side-stepped the “law” since the police only investigate crimes before they happen, not really after, unless they already know who it is that perpetrated the crime. In Hack’s case, they would know who did it and come after him since he already told them he was contracted to do the killings. He’s screwed. So he agrees to pay them far more than he’ll be paid so that they’ll kill the ten people without sending him to prison and without him defaulting on his first contract and facing millions in fines that he’ll never be able to pay.

This sets off a whole series of bizarre events that all puzzle-piece together into a roller coaster of an adventure that jumps around the globe. We see the characters moving through the complicated web that binds them all together. It’s a great ride. There are a lot of characters, so it does get complicated trying to keep up with them all, but each one is necessary to the story. I love the interactions the characters have with each other as their paths cross, then we follow each of them on their own separate journeys, only to find their ways back to these people from seemingly random interactions.

The writing is witty and amusing. I really loved the sarcasm, the guy that cries when he’s nervous, and the descriptions of their clothing. At one point, a student laments that it’s hard to be cool with the golden arches on the back of your school uniform.

The whole novel is a wild adventure, all circulating around this Nike scandal. But this single scandal proves to be a tipping point. Soon, an all-out brand war erupts, threatening everyone’s way of life.

I couldn’t recommend this novel enough. I know I definitely plan on reading it again and again.

And just to keep you interested, yes, you do eventually learn what the barcode tattoo beneath Jennifer Government’s eye means.