Jennifer Government is a novel that tries to have its cake and eat it. On the one hand it is an obvious satire on corporate power and greed and the inability of states to control these wayward creatures, on the other hand the story highlights individuals who by either opposing or aspiring to be major players in this selfish corporatism quite frequently espouse the self-same macho values that got corporatism where it is. While castigating the whole set-up Max Barry also revels in the rogue survivalist attitudes and actions that many of the characters display. Is it irony, or is he hedging his bets?
The action is set sometime in the future, the action shifting from Australia to West Coast America, with a foray to London. First published in 2002, a little over a decade on the book is showing its age, with references to technologies such as VCRs which are near obsolete. The stories of half a dozen or so individuals, all of whom have their greater or lesser parts to play in the final denouement, become enmeshed during the course of the tale. The problem is that most of them have characters that are either unattractive or inadequate or both, so much so that we care little about them except that they might mercifully precipitate a final resolution. There are also manifold plot absurdities, such as key power players relying on weak individuals to accomplish their dirty deeds with little or frequently no fall-back or back-up, not to mention security forces who fail to follow basic military good practice. Quite clearly a full plot synopsis would be pointless.
The major villain gets their come-uppance at the end, but it is done in so unsatisfying a way that it feels that the author had either got as bored as potential readers or was leaving the way open for a sequel. For the sake of the reading public I sincerely hope it’s not the latter reason. Jennifer Government is a lacklustre dystopian novel, one to neither keep nor pass on to a friend; in fact, just pass on it.