Syrup by Maxx Barry is as good as an icy cold Coca Cola on a sweltering hot summer day. In other words, Syrup is satisfying! It’s a fun romp that takes well deserved swipes at marketing, Hollywood, ambition and corporate ethics. Amid the social commentary is a romantic plot that, while a bit one-dimensional, is … well … fun. It’s not the romantic swoon you’ll get from Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife, but more like … Sawyer and Kate’s relationship on Lost. Yes, it’s a TV reference, but it’s apt in my opinion, particularly given the role books are playing in that series.
Syrup follows Scat (formerly Michael George Holloway), a recent college graduate, who seeks to become famous. Really famous. Acknowledging his lack of acting ability he seeks to make fame and fortune in business and marketing. The premise is that everyone has at least three big ideas in their lifetime. Three ideas that, if pursued, can make millions of dollars. And it just so happens that Scat has one of these amazing ideas about a new brand of cola named Fukk.
Scat’s idea brings him into contact with 6, a beautiful, young, driven marketer at Coca Cola. No, that’s not a typo, her name is the number 6 and the back story to this unusual name is one of the more intriguing gems in Syrup. Barry doesn’t follow this thread, but I wish he had. Scat is immediately smitten and immersed into the shark tank of corporate politics and ladder back-stabbing. Fukk is a success but doesn’t make Scat millions. In fact, it creates an arch-nemesis, Sneaky Pete, who Scat and 6 fight together through the rest of the novel.
Syrup is composed of very short micro-chapters much like Steve Erickson’s Zeroville. This format lets Barry be creative and playful. You can feel his energy and passion for the story. He’s having fun and thereby, the reader is as well. The format also lets Barry sprinkle in bite size case studies like the following:
Pick a random chemical in your product and heavily promote its presence. When your customers see “Now wth Benzoethylhydrates!” they will assume that this is a good thing.
This is a tongue in cheek send-up which flirts with deeper issues like the difference between perception and reality, the friction between art and commerce and finding yourself. But Barry never delves into any of these areas in greater depth. They’re nearly offhanded comments or topic sentences to a potentially longer essay. Could he have done more? Maybe. Would it have worked? Maybe. Is it necessary to make this novel complete? No!
Syrup by Maxx Barry is fast paced and funny, a marriage of soap opera and satire that is a pleasure to read.