With his latest novel COMPANY, Max Barry once again takes aim at the corporate environment with razor sharp wit and his sly, almost absurdist, satirical voice. His writing often feels very similar to Douglas Coupland who shared many of his views of corporate culture in his wonderful novel MICROSERFS. Most of us have been there before, in the banal cattle farm that is the world of cubical culture. For those who have not and cannot understand what your friends are talking about should read these two books. They’re sort of DILBERT for adults.
The book has many surprising and often funny twists and turns as its protagonist, Stephen Jones, slowly uncovers the truth about the new company he is working for. Zephyr Holdings is like many large companies. Each department is its own serfdom and Senior Management rules all with its hidden hand of authority. What is always surprising to me about Max Berry’s books is that through all this satire and absurdity, his characters still feel real and you often find yourselves rooting for them and languishing with them in their ethical dilemmas. His last book, JENNIFER GOVERNMENT, had a similar feel, but was more concerned with the lengths that corporate marketers will often go to, to get their product to rise above the flotsam and jetsam of the consumer feeding tough.
This wasn’t the easiest book for Barry to write. I’ve been waiting almost two years for it to come out. It would seem that getting this close and remaining true to his goal was quite difficult this time around and many rounds with his editor delayed the book many years. I personally am glad he waited. It isn’t easy to find compassion and truth buried in these types of cultures. Obviously this is the story of the worker and not the corporation. But, there were many places he could have misstep and I have no doubt that he did many times before pulling together this novel. I would love to point to one of the articles or blog threads where he discussed this, but with the publication of his book they seem to hiding.
I also believe that if you are one of those management types that enjoys reading books about how to manage people, most likely because you never really worked up to that position but just sort of ended up there, you should read this book instead. Of course I don’t think there are any of those sorts of people who visit my little island here, but you never know, they could click over from reading some poor employees blog before sacking them and wonder to the “next blog” feature and end up on mine. I’ve found in the few large companies that I have worked in that the managers forget, if they ever had the knowledge in the first place, what it was like to be a low rung employee as soon as their ass hits their new comfortable chair. Funny that the higher you get in an organization the more comfortable your chair gets. It’s just like in churches where the worshippers sit on slightly cushioned slabs of hard wood while the preacher and adjunct ministers have nice comfortable seats up on the Dias. Odd, that analogy.
As soon as this one comes out in paperback, I will immediately begin spreading it around like a virus.