Monthly Archives: March 2014

Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government by Max Barry (Vintage Books, 2003)

This is a fast-moving science fiction novel about the near future, though it was probably a lot funnier in 2003 when the future it described seemed comfortably far away. Eleven years later, we’re about halfway there. In this world, Australia is part of the United States, taxes have been abolished, and privatization has advanced to its logical endpoint. Schools are run by youth oriented companies like Mattel and McDonalds, and your last name is the company or organization you work for. Some of the main characters in the story include Hack Nike, Claire Sears, Violet ExxonMobil, and Buy Matsui. Jennifer Government is a police detective and single parent who belongs to a small and rapidly diminishing set of Americans who believe murder is wrong and should be prosecuted. The heads of companies such as Nike think it’s fine to kill a few people for marketing purposes (and proceed to do so). By the end, there is an actual war (with guns and bombs) between the top two brand loyalty associations of multinational corporations. Are you ready to live in a world where Mac versus Windows and Pepsi versus Coke are life or death decisions?


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The Anthologist

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Having accidentally read the sequel first, I went back and read The Anthologist and enjoyed it as well. It is about the same character, a middle-aged poet in New England. In this book, Paul Chowder is supposed to be writing the introduction to his anthology of poetry, but keeps putting it off. So we learn all about the history of poetry, particularly about the value of rhyme and the various kinds of meter. He explains poetry in a very understandable way without seeming like a textbook. The book is basically a running commentary of Paul Chowder’s everyday life, but he seems to be an intelligent and sensitive man so it’s interesting to read. I’m looking forward to checking out Baker’s other novels.

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Past Perfect

Past Perfect by Susan Isaacs (Scribner, 2007).

I chose this book because I remembered enjoying another novel by Susan Isaacs called “Shining Through.” While Past Perfect isn’t terrible, it is not as good as Shining Through. The plot is similar in some ways – apparently Isaacs likes to write about spying, international politics, Germany, and young love. I think this novel is less interesting to me because it takes place in the present day, not the 1940s. The “past” of the title is 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. That was an interesting time, but since she is viewing it from the present day, we don’t really learn much about it. I do sympathize with her primary plot problem, which is trying to find out why she was let go from the CIA 15 years previously with no explanation. That would really bother me too, especially if it made it nearly impossible to find subsequent employment as happened to Katie. In the end she does find out what happened.

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Return to Oakpine

Return to Oakpine: A Novel by Ron Carlson (Viking, 2013)

You know how there are “chick-lit” novels, aimed at women readers? This book represents the opposite genre – let’s call it “guy-lit.” The middle-aged main character is a gay man returning to his childhood home to die of HIV/AIDS. Home is a small town in Wyoming in the late 1990’s, where men are traditionally tough and gay men don’t really fit in. On the whole though, the town treats him decently – his Dad doesn’t talk to him until the very end, but everyone else (like his high school pals who haven’t seen him in 30 years) visit him often and talk with him about writing and guitar music. Outside of these visits, Carlson paints a picture of a typical American small town where the men love football, hunting, and construction. The few women in the story are very stereotyped secondary characters, not fully developed.

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