If Max Barry’s Company were an actual company (say Hewlett-Packard, which gets the only shout-out in the book’s dedication), it would be massively in debt — to The Office, Lost, The Truman Show, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Animal Farm, The Wizard of Oz, The Fountainhead, the Declaration of Independence, and, for a paragraph or two, even Pretty Woman.
The novel’s main cog, Stephen Jones, is Dilberting his way through the strange world of Zephyr Holdings. ”You could argue that [the building] has a certain neutral understated charm, but only if you are willing to apply the same logic to prisons and 1970s Volvos.” Among its oddities: Floor No. 1 is the top of the building, a stolen doughnut is cause for termination, employees sell training sessions to each other instead of to outside clients, and the receptionist, Eve (oh, yeah, I forgot: Barry finds inspiration from the Bible, too), drives a flashy Audi. The whole premise is amusing enough, but it’s nothing that’d compel you to turn off Steve Carell.
Then, like this review is about to do, Barry (Jennifer Government) throws a mother of a twist. To disclose what occurs after page 80 would rob any enjoyment from the book. (Okay, here’s one clue: Check out American Heritage’s fourth definition of zephyr.) It’s that twist that saves Barry’s third novel from becoming as drab as the office he describes and establishes him as one of the keenest and shrewdest minds in corporate satire. Rarely has a novelist borrowed from so many sources yet come up with something so utterly original.