Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government

4.3 67
by Max Barry, MAXX Barry

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"In Max Barry's twisted, hilarious vision of the near future, the world is run by giant American corporations (except for a few deluded holdouts like the French); taxes are illegal; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly traded security firms; the Government may investigate crimes only if it can bill a citizen…  See more details below


"In Max Barry's twisted, hilarious vision of the near future, the world is run by giant American corporations (except for a few deluded holdouts like the French); taxes are illegal; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly traded security firms; the Government may investigate crimes only if it can bill a citizen directly. It's a free market paradise!" "Hack Nike is a lowly Merchandising Officer who's not very good at negotiating his salary. So when John Nike and John Nike, executives from the promised land of Marketing, offer him a contract, he signs without reading it. Unfortunately, Hack's new contract involves committing murder to build up street cred for Nike's new line of $2,500 sneakers. Scared, Hack goes to the Police, who assume he's asking for a subcontracting deal and lease the job to the NRA." Soon Hack finds himself pursued by Jennifer Government, a tough-talking agent with a barcode tattoo under her eye and a rabid determination to nail John Nike (the boss of the other John Nike). In a world where your job title means everything, the most cherished possession is a platinum credit card, and advertising jingles give way to artillery in the fight for market share, Jennifer Government is the consumer watchdog from hell.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
It's probably not fair to criticize Jennifer Government for failing to make the reader angry enough to toss a chair through a Starbucks window. Even the most ambitious social satires tend to have rather limited power in the real world, and Barry is surely more interested in entertaining than in preaching or inciting. And he is entertaining. For the first hundred pages or so, he unleashes enough wit and surprise to make his story a total blast. — Rob Walker
The Washington Post
Satire is not easy. 1984 was powerful fiction but lousy prognostication. Catch-22 has some wonderful moments but goes on forever. Jennifer Government does just about everything right. It is fast-moving, funny, involving and, if you share Barry's dark view of the corporate ethos, all too serious. — Patrick Anderson
In his book, Max Barry seems to be making the point that anarchy is not freedom. In a time when characters take the last name of the organization they work for and police forces contract killings, Barry creates a materialistic world where money can buy you everything, except justice. In his world, corporations rule and being unemployed is worse than murder. As corporations unite and take on the help of the police and NRA (yes, the NRA!), the government doesn't have the necessary budget to fight them. Barry begins the book with the events that set this in motion. When Jennifer Government, a government agent, is tipped off that a Nike advertising campaign will involve the murder of several people, she sets out to prevent these crimes (crime prevention is in her job description). Along the way the author caricatures the NRA, the police, giant corporations, privatized government agencies, and ineffectual protestors. The sometimes graphic nature of the material in this book and the sophisticated subject matter make it a better read for more mature young adults. 2003, Doubleday, 321 pp., Ages young adult.
—Katrina Nelson
Library Journal
Yes, the eponymous heroine really does work for the government. In a world where corporations run everything, even giving employees their surnames, Jennifer steps in to help Hack Nike, who has unwittingly contracted to shoot teenagers wearing a classy brand of sneakers. You weren't expecting anything ordinary from the author of Syrup, were you? Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In a satiric near future, privatization has taken over all aspects of public life-including schools, police, and government-and the world is divided among economic blocs. Surnames reflect the company people work for, and, increasingly, the alliance of corporations to which the company belongs. When hapless Hack Nike, a lowly Merchandise Distribution Officer, runs into the wrong people-John Nike and (yes) John Nike, Vice Presidents-at the watercooler, he is inveigled into a highly illegal, unethical merchandising act. When he goes to the police for help, they sell him a contract (which he can't afford) to take the job off his hands, and then subcontract the work to the NRA, which botches it, putting Field Agent Jennifer Government on the case. Jennifer is a single mother with a savvy daughter, Kate Mattel (children take the name of their school), who is a bit of a heroine herself. A hard-boiled detective with a soft heart and a ready wisecrack, Jennifer has an enigmatic tattoo, a mysterious past, and a mission to bring down wrongdoers-especially at Nike. The story takes her on a madcap chase across the United States Economic Bloc from Melbourne to London, culminating in a bizarre world war with a surprising outcome. The cast includes quite a few characters, and while they aren't deep, they are colorful, pointed, and funny. This fast read should please a variety of teens with its hip attitude and hilarious turns, and could spark lively discussions.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bubblegum pop-future comedy in which corporations go to war like feudal fiefdoms. In a move guaranteed to provide the impetus for many a lawsuit, all Barry's characters have forgone use of their surnames in the interest of renaming themselves after their place of work-so we have Jennifer Government, John Nike, Hack Nike, Buy Mitsui, and Billy NRA. Jennifer is a former top advertising exec with a barcode tattoo on her face who is now a loose-cannon federal agent and single mother, as deadly with a pistol as she once was with ad copy. The world situation: corporations are even more rapacious than today, and they fight one another along battle lines drawn up by two big consumer reward programs: US Alliance and Team Advantage. Governments themselves are a thing of the past, with the exception of the US one, which is now privatized and running other parts of the globe, including Australia, where the book is set. Coldhearted marketing whiz John Nike (one of two characters so named) has decided that Nike's new sneakers would fly off the shelves all the faster if on the day they were delivered to Niketowns, several teenage customers got shot for them. It's a manufactured street cred thing. Shooters are hired-many from the now-privatized and militia-like NRA-and, despite Jennifer's best efforts, 14 teen shoppers get killed. The remainder of the story describes a rapidly escalating battle for supremacy between Jennifer's government agents and the forces of Nike, who believe themselves to be invulnerable and don't hesitate to use deadly force. At the same time, things are heating up between US Alliance and Team Advantage, with Burger Kings getting bombed, snipers going after rival chain stores, andriots erupting in the streets. Barry (Syrup, 1999) has a quick wit and a light touch, which helps the reader skate over some of the occasional patches of too-obvious satire and should translate easily (though more litigiously) to film. It's Catch-22 by way of The Matrix. Film rights to Section 8; author tour
From the Publisher
"Wicked and wonderful. . . . [It] does just about everything right. Fast-moving, funny and involving."—The Washington Post Book World

“Funny and clever. . . . A kind of ad-world version of Dr. Strangelove. [Barry] unleashes enough wit and surprise to make his story a total blast.” —The New York Times Book

“May be the most fun you’ll find in a bookstore this year. . . . Full of wit, humor and imagination, Jennifer Government ultimately pulls off its over-the-top conceit.”—Time Out New York

“A riotous satirical rant. . . . [Its characters’] excesses . . . make Barry’s world of unregulated corporate greed and unrelenting consumerism so frightening and funny.”—Entertainment Weekly

“The plot rockets forward on hyperdrive . . . fresh and very clever.”—The Boston Globe

“[A] devilish satire that made me laugh out loud.”—Dick Adler, The Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

Doubleday Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.11(d)

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1 Nike

Hack first heard about Jennifer Government at the watercooler. He was only there because the one on his floor was out; Legal was going to come down on Nature's Springs like a ton of shit, you could bet on that. Hack was a Merchandise Distribution Officer. This meant when Nike made up a bunch of posters, or caps, or beach towels, Hack had to send them to the right place. Also, if someone called up complaining about missing posters, or caps, or beach towels, Hack had to take the call. It wasn't as exciting as it used to be.

"It's a calamity," a man at the watercooler said. "Four days away from launch and Jennifer Government's all over my ass."

"Jee-sus," his companion said. "That's gotta suck."

"It means we have to move fast." He looked at Hack, who was filling his cup. "Hi there."

Hack looked up. They were smiling at him as if he was an equal--but of course, Hack was on the wrong floor. They didn't know he was just a Merc Officer. "Hi."

"Haven't seen you around before," the calamity guy said. "You new?"

"No. I work in Merc."

"Oh." His nose wrinkled.

"Our cooler's out," Hack said. He turned away quickly.

"Hey, wait up," the suit said. "You ever do any marketing work?"

"Uh," he said, not sure if this was a joke. "No."

The suits looked at each other. The calamity guy shrugged. Then they stuck out their hands. "I'm John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Operative, New Products."

"And I'm John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Vice-President, New Products," the other suit said.

"Hack Nike," Hack said, shaking.

"Hack, I'm empowered to make midrange labor-contracting decisions," Vice-President Johnsaid. "You interested in some work?"

"Some . . ." He felt his throat thicken. "Marketing work?"

"On a case-by-case basis, of course," the other John said.

Hack started to cry.

"There," a John said, handing him a handkerchief. "You feel better?"

Hack nodded, shamed. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, don't worry about it," Vice-President John said. "Career change can be very stressful. I read that somewhere."

"Here's the paperwork." The other John handed him a pen and a sheaf of papers. The first page said CONTRACT TO PERFORM SERVICE, and the others were in type too small to read.

Hack hesitated. "You want me to sign this now?"

"It's nothing to worry about. Just the usual noncompetes and nondisclosure agreements."

"Yeah, but . . ." Companies were getting a lot tougher on labor contracts these days; Hack had heard stories. At Adidas, if you quit your job and your replacement wasn't as competent, they sued you for lost profits.

"Hack, we need someone who can make snap decisions. A fast mover."

"Someone who can get things done. With a minimum of fucking around."

"If that's not your style, well . . . let's forget we spoke. No harm done. You stick to Merchandising." Vice-President John reached for the contract.

"I can sign it now," Hack said, tightening his grip.

"It's totally up to you," the other John said. He took the chair beside Hack, crossed his legs, and rested his hands at the juncture, smiling. Both Johns had good smiles, Hack noticed. He guessed everyone in marketing did. They had pretty similar faces, too. "Just at the bottom there."

Hack signed.

"Also there," the John said. "And on the next page . . . and one there. And there."

"Glad to have you on board, Hack." Vice-President John took the contract, opened a drawer, and dropped it inside. "Now. What do you know about Nike Mercurys?"

Hack blinked. "They're our latest product. I haven't actually seen a pair, but . . . I heard they're great."

The Johns smiled. "We started selling Mercurys six months ago. You know how many pairs we've shifted since then?"

Hack shook his head. They cost thousands of dollars each, but that wouldn't stop people from buying them. They were the hottest sneakers in the world. "A million?"

"Two hundred."

"Two hundred million?"

"No. Two hundred pairs."

"John here," the other John said, "pioneered the concept of marketing by refusing to sell any products. It drives the market insane."

"And now it's time to cash in. On Friday we're gonna dump four hundred thousand pairs on the market at two and a half grand each."

"Which, since they cost us--what was it?"


"Since they cost us eighty-five cents to manufacture, gives us a gross margin of around one billion dollars." He looked at Vice-President John. "It's a brilliant campaign."

"It's really just common sense," John said. "But here's the thing, Hack: if people realize every mall in the country's got Mercurys, we'll lose all that prestige we've worked so hard to build. Am I right?"

"Yeah." Hack hoped he sounded confident. He didn't really understand marketing.

"So you know what we're going to do?"

He shook his head.

"We're going to shoot them," Vice-President John said. "We're going to kill anyone who buys a pair."

Silence. "What?" Hack said.

The other John said, "Well, not everyone, obviously. We figure we only have to plug . . . what did we decide? Five?"

"Ten," Vice-President John said. "To be safe."

"Right. We take out ten customers, make it look like ghetto kids, and we've got street cred coming out our asses. I bet we shift our inventory within twenty-four hours."

"I remember when you could always rely on those little street kids to pop a few people for the latest Nikes," Vice-President John said. "Now people get mugged for Reeboks, for Adidas--for generics, for Christ's sake."

"The ghettos have no fashion sense anymore," the other John said. "I swear, they'll wear anything."

"It's a disgrace. Anyway, Hack, I think you get the point. This is a groundbreaking campaign."

"Talk about edgy," the other John said. "This defines edgy."

"Um . . ." Hack said. He swallowed. "Isn't this kind of . . . illegal?"

"He wants to know if it's illegal," the John said, amused. "You're a funny guy, Hack. Yes, it's illegal, killing people without their consent, that's very illegal."

Vice-President John said, "But the question is: what does it cost? Even if we get found out, we burn a few million on legal fees, we get fined a few million more . . . bottom-line, we're still way out in front."

Hack had a question he very much didn't want to ask. "So . . . this contract . . . what does it say I'll do?"

The John beside him folded his hands. "Well, Hack, we've explained our business plan. What we want you to do is . . ."

"Execute it," Vice-President John said.

2 McDonald's

Until she stood in front of them, Hayley didn't realize how many of her classmates were blond. It was like a beach out there. She'd missed the trend. Hayley would have to hotfoot it to a hairdresser after school.

"When you're ready," the teacher said.

She looked at her note cards and took a breath. "Why I Love America, by Hayley McDonald's. America is the greatest group of countries in the world because we have freedom. In countries like France, where the Government isn't privatized, they still have to pay tax and do whatever the Government says, which would really suck. In USA countries, we respect individual rights and let people do whatever they want."

The teacher jotted something in his folder. McDonald's-sponsored schools were cheap like that: at Pepsi schools, everyone had notebook computers. Also their uniforms were much better. It was so hard to be cool with the Golden Arches on your back.

"Before USA countries abolished tax, if you didn't have a job, the Government took money from working people and gave it to you. So, like, the more useless you were, the more money you got." No response from her classmates. Even the teacher didn't smile. Hayley was surprised: she'd thought that one was a crack-up.

"But now America has all the best companies and all the money because everyone works and the Government can't spend money on stupid things like advertising and elections and making new laws. They just stop people stealing or hurting each other and everything else is taken care of by the private sector, which everyone knows is more efficient." She looked at her notes: yep, that was it. "Finally I would like to say that America is the greatest group of countries in the world and I am proud to live in the Australian Territories of the USA!"

A smattering of applause. It was the eighth talk this period: she guessed it was getting harder to work up enthusiasm for capitalizm. Hayley headed for her seat.

"Hold it," the teacher said. "I have questions."

"Oh," Hayley said.

"Are there any positive aspects to tax?"

She relaxed: a gimme question. "Some people say tax is good because it gives money to people who don't have any. But those people must be lazy or stupid, so why should they get other people's money? Obviously the answer is no."

The teacher blinked. He made a note. That must have been an impressive answer, Hayley thought. "What about social justice?"


"Is it fair that some people should be rich while others have nothing?"

She shifted from one foot to the other. She was just remembering: this teacher had a thing about poor people. He was always bringing them up. "Um, yeah, it's fair. Because if I study really hard for a test and get an A and Emily doesn't and fails"--renewed interest from the class; Emily raised blond eyebrows--"then it's not fair to take some of my marks and give them to her, is it?"

The teacher frowned. Hayley felt a flash of panic. "Another thing, in non-USA countries they want everyone to be the same, so if your sister is born blind, then they blind you, too, to make it even. But how unfair is that? I would much rather be an American than a European Union . . . person." She gave the class a big smile. They clapped, much more enthusiastically than before. She added hopefully, "Is that all?"

"Yes. Thank you."

Relief! She started walking. A cute boy in the third row winked at her.

The teacher said, "Although, Hayley, they don't really blind people in non-USA countries."

Hayley stopped. "Well, that's kind of hypocritical, isn't it?"

The class cheered. The teacher opened his mouth, then shut it. Hayley took her seat. Kick ass, she thought. She had aced this test.

3 The Police

Hack sat in traffic, biting his nails. This had not been a good day. He was beginning to think that visiting the marketing floor for a cup of water was the worst mistake he'd ever made.

He turned into a side street and parked his Toyota. It rattled angrily and let loose a puff of black smoke. Hack really needed a new car. Maybe if this job paid off, he could move out of St. Kilda. He could get an apartment with some space, maybe some natural light--

He shook his head angrily. What was he thinking? He wasn't going to shoot anyone. Not even for a better apartment.

He climbed the stairs to the second floor and let himself in. Violet was sitting cross-legged on the living-room floor with her notebook computer in her lap. Violet was his girlfriend. She was the only unemployed person he'd had ever met, not counting homeless people who asked him for money. She was an entrepreneur. Violet was probably going to be rich one day: she was smart and determined. Sometimes Hack wasn't sure why they were together.

He dropped his briefcase and shrugged off his jacket. The table was littered with bills. Hack hadn't bargained very well in his last performance evaluation and it was really biting him now. "Violet?"


"Can we talk?"

She didn't look up. "Is it important?"


She frowned. Hack waited. Violet didn't like being disturbed during her work. She didn't like being disturbed at all. She was short and thin with long brown hair, which made her look much more fragile than she really was. "What's up?"

He sat on the sofa. "I did something stupid."

"Oh, Hack, not again."

Hack had missed a couple of turnoffs on the way home lately: last Tuesday he'd gotten himself onto a premium road and eaten through eleven dollars in tolls before he found an exit. "No, something really stupid."

"What happened?"

"Well, I got offered some work . . . some marketing work--"

"That's great! We could really use the extra money."

"--and I signed a contract without reading it."

Pause. "Oh," Violet said. "Well, it might be okay--"

"It says I have to kill people. It's some kind of promotional campaign. I have to, um, kill ten people."

For a moment she said nothing. He hoped she wasn't going to shout at him. "I'd better look at that contract."

He dropped his head.

"You don't have a copy?"


"Oh, Hack."

"I'm sorry."

Violet chewed her lip. "Well, you can't go through with it. The Government's not as pussy as people think. They'd get you for sure. But then, you don't know what the penalties in that contract are . . . I think you should go to the Police."


"There's a station on Chapel Street. When are you meant to . . . do it?"


"You should go. Right now."

"Okay. You're right." He picked up his jacket. "Thanks, Violet."

"Why does this kind of thing always happen to you, Hack?"

"I don't know," he said. He felt emotional. He shut the door carefully behind him.

The station was only a few blocks away, and as it came into view he began to feel hopeful. The building was lit up in blue neon, with THE POLICE in enormous letters and a swirling light above that. If anyone could help him out of this situation, Hack felt it would be someone who worked in a place like this.

The doors slid open and he walked up to the reception desk. A woman in uniform--either a real cop or a receptionist dressed in theme, Hack didn't know which--smiled. Playing over the PA system was the song from their TV ads, "Every Breath You Take."

"Good evening, how can I help you?"

"I have a matter I'd like to discuss with an officer, please."

"May I ask the nature of your problem?"

"Um," he said. "I've been contracted to kill someone. Some people, actually."

The receptionist's eyebrows rose a fraction, then settled. Hack felt relieved. He didn't want to be chastised by the receptionist. "Take a seat, sir. An officer will be right with you."

Hack dropped into a soft, blue chair and waited. A few minutes later, a cop came out and stopped in front of him. Hack rose.

"I'm Senior Sergeant Pearson Police," the man said. He shook Hack's hand firmly. He had a small, trim mustache but otherwise looked pretty capable. "Please accompany me."

From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright© 2003 by Max Barry

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Jennifer Government 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Usually when an author attempts to introduce their cast of characters individually, and thread them together throughout the story, it turns into disjointed, mess. The book turns into several five hundred page novels of no less than three volumes, the characters take a back seat to a convoluted plot, and the story moves a turtles pace, while the reader hopes the author stops being coy, and gets the characters together, so they can get on with the story. This is not the case with Max Barry¿s latest novel, Jennifer Government, however. The novel centers around several characters living in a not so distant, and not altogether unrealistic future, where corporations run everything, and one¿s job determines their surname. (hence the title, named after the novel¿s protagonist) Barry takes the time to make his readers invest something in his carefully crafted characters, and moves the plot along at a break-neck pace, making the book almost impossible to put down. Add to that that, the book is also satirical in nature, and neither the story or characters suffer, and you have a very enjoyable thought-provoking read. The book makes it¿s point(s) without beating the reader over the head, and the moral questions asked of the reader are presented in such an open-ended way it allows them to come to their own conclusions. A funny, challenging book, which will be part of high school reading curriculums in years to come.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first heard about this book on Barry's Nationstates game, so I decided to check it out.. I'm glad I did! It's hilarious, full of witty comments and odd twists
Guest More than 1 year ago
Max Barry creates a world (more like an 'America') ruled in a nearly absolute free market society. Due to budget restrictions in a world where contracts and profits mean more to people than the quality of human life, the government wields its power in an 'equal' playing field with the wheelings and dealings of coporations, monopolies, merges, and coporate takeovers. I gave this book 4 and a half stars as opposed to 5 because the falling action all the way to the book's ending seemed like it was rushed in its efforts to end the book by 300 pages and it didn't take enough time to intricately gel the characters in the end as Barry so brilliantly did in its build-up. 'Jennifer Government' is still a great read despite my criticism on its ending. I enjoyed the book's evolution and transition from Hack's plight as a lowly Merc Officer at Nike to the stand-off between US Alliance and Team Advantage, although I didn't find the book as 'humorous' as many critics make it out to seem.
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*runs in and seeing he's not here, runs to Yers*
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Crawls to yers
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Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Solid story that needs to be a little tighter and a rewrite dueto changes in corporate leaders but otherwise pleasant enough
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If you have not read a Max Barry book, your missing out!!!
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This book is a realistic look into a dystopian future, where companies would kill to make a buck. I strongly recommend this book to those that loved Brave New World and 1984.
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