With its skewering of corporate policy and lampooning of the useless "busy work" mentality of "real world" office jobs, Max Barry's new novel, Company, will endure inevitable comparisons to TV's The Office and filmdom's Office Space. Company goes one step further by tendering a more inspired and involved plot—but it's no less hilarious.
Rookie Stephen Jones, even on his first day in the training sales department of the Zephyr Holdings Company in downtown Seattle, realizes that he and his coworkers are simply cogs in the great Zephyr machine, discouraged from asking questions—particularly about what the company actually does. When Jones wonders aloud what Zephyr produces, sells, and whom his department trains, his coworkers shrug and his supervisors remind him to "read the mission statement," which is, natch, a whole bunch of bombastic gibberish.
Considering the significant entertainment value of ridiculing office inanity, I suspected that the story would falter somewhat once Jones discovered the real mission behind Zephyr but it only picks up. Here's exactly where Company diverges from comparable film and TV productions. After an unexpected twist, the outcome is even more unforeseen. The story remains compelling, not only because of its surprises, but because of Barry's skilled prose. Here he describes a corporate consolidation: "And there it is: a new department. Its progeny lies on the table, a cruel abomination of nature, sucking in its first foul breath. Its yellow glint balefully. Its limbs curl and flop on the polished oak." And Company's subplots, such as the one involving an employee obsessing over a stolen doughnut for four months, further hold a reader's attention.
Company is a droll novel with satisfying bits of corporate flunky uprisings. Barry himself had Hewlett-Packard pay his bills while he wrote his first novel, Syrup, which, like his second, Jennifer Government, is also about corporate America. Company is an appropriate read for anyone in the waiting room before a corporate job interview—as well as for anyone ever curious about buildings "missing" a 13th floor. WILL GARDNER