Company by Max Barry was, to be direct, not very good. I had high hopes for Company, coming on the heels of Barry’s very interesting Jennifer Government. Unfortunately, Company has all the snappy dialog and cheeky humor but falls short on nearly every other front. My copy of Company has the image of a glazed donut on the cover, which I find an apt metaphor: sweet sugary exterior with nothing but airy dough on the inside. Oh, and there’s a hole in the middle and it’s not at all nutritious.
Barry’s aim is to explore and poke fun at large corporate business culture and their reliance on Six Sigma, KPI, TQM and other management techniques. Trust me, I’ve experienced some of these corporate torture devices and they are absolutely inane. Thing is, others have been down this road, most notably Douglas Coupland in Generation X. While not the direct assault that Barry is looking to deliver, Coupland winds up capturing the soul-sucking combination of boredom and stress far better than Barry.
In Company, Stephen Jones, a recent business graduate, joins Zephyr Holdings, the antithesis of a toxic corporate culture. His co-workers are a pale Glengarry Glen Ross and Office Space amalgamation who have no real idea what the company does or sells. There are some clever bureaucratic gags, anecdotes and insights, but not enough to offset the stale setting and hollow characters. In particular, Eve Jantiss, the model-like, amoral love interest comes off more like a caricature of a junior high version of a corporate fantasy girl.
Perhaps he’s too far removed from his days at Hewlett Packard, or there’s a cultural difference or time-zone like delay on this type of corporate satire. Whatever the reason, Max Barry’s Company is an easy read but, like a donut, you’ll search for something else to fill you up the minute you’re done.