I recently read Max Barry’s third (and most recent) book, Company. As you may know, I’m a bit of a fan of Barry, and spend an inordinately inappropriate amount of time reading through the backlist of posts on his blog. When I read his other two books (Syrup and Jennifer Government), I was so keen to write about them that I had barely closed the back cover before I was pounding out a review. On the other hand, I finished reading Company almost two weeks ago, and have only just got to the point where I’m ready to write about it.
I am really loathe to say this, but… I didn’t enjoy Company as much as Barry’s other books. Excuse me while I spent some time cringing in horror at my own statement.
At Zephyr Holdings, no one has ever seen the CEO in person. The beautiful receptionist is paid twice as much as anybody else, but does no apparent work. The sales reps use relationship self-help books as sales manuals, and one is on the warpath because of a missing mid-morning donut. In other words, it’s an ordinary big company.
Company is the story of Jones, a man employed by Zephyr Holdings to sell training programs. He quickly realises that none of his colleagues know what the company actually does. So he sets about finding out.
I sat down and read this novel in a single sitting. Seriously. I let my husband make his own dinner, I ignored my son’s plaintive cries that he needed to eat, and I locked myself in the bathroom with the shower running so that I’d have enough peace and quiet to finish the book. And there wasn’t a single part of the book that I didn’t enjoy. The characters are realistic, the plot is eerily plausible, and the twist is unexpected enough to be entertaining, without coming completely out of left field. But I still felt strangely… unfulfilled.
I sat and tried to work out what the problem could have been:
Is Company funny? Yes. Well, it’s amusing in a satirical way, although not laugh-out-loud funny like Syrup.
Is Company exciting? Yes. Well, it’s exciting in a corporate way, but not full of edge-of-your-seat thrills like Jennifer Government.
Does Company hold your attention, and make you feel like you’re in the middle of the story? Yes. Although where Syrup had me trying to think up a marketing campaign to destroy Sneaky Pete and Jennifer Government had me feeling like an action-hero in a world-gone-stupid, Company just had me feeling like I was trapped in an all-too-familiar Kafka-esque tableau.
And I think that’s why I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as Barry’s earlier ones. Syrup was set in the exciting world of LA and Hollywood, and Jennifer Government was set in an entire alternate-present world. Company, however, was set inside a single corporation; a single building; a handful of people. And it felt claustrophobic in comparison.
In saying all of that, I definitely recommend Company. I just don’t agree that it’s Barry’s best book. At least, it’s not my favourite. But I urge you to read all three and decide for yourself.