Max Barry is the literary equivalent of Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Starting with Syrup, Barry's novels are both humorous and ruthless in their send-ups of the corporate world, satires that juggle biting wit with suspense. With Company, Barry skewers companies that reorganize with a regularity that rivals Old Faithful. Protagonist Jones is a newly hired sales assistant at Zephyr Holdings, a company whose employees are not exactly sure what the company does, although all are sure that the best way to survive is not to question the orders coming from Senior Management. The Training Sales Department, where Jones works, is embroiled in controversy because one of the reps did not get his morning donut, and there's talk of sabotage. When top-performing Wendell is fired for being "involved in some irregularities concerning morning snacks" and for having commissions that the unit wants to use for its own solvency, the reps realize that the company has begun to punish good results. The panic that ensues has sales reps scrambling to sabotage their own accounts so they can keep their jobs.
In Barry's hands, the destruction of a company has never been so tongue-in-cheek. Here, a series of forwarded calls lead to the crash of the entire computer network, and, because someone must be blamed, the entire tech staff is ousted. Without a viable computer network, employees can't work, although, after the initial panic subsides, they are all too happy to pretend to be working without actually accomplishing anything. Mini-dramas erupt like pimples. As friends disappear from their cubicles, abruptly escorted off the premises by security, people willingly sever all ties with them. Conclusions, often based on nonsense, are whispered. In the midst of all this is Jones: fresh-faced, idealistic, ethical, and determined to do a good job despite the advice he receives from his co-workers.
Barry's strength has always been in his absurdist touch, with individual scenes meaning much more than the characters that propel them, and Company does not divert from this winning formula. This novel's unrelenting mockery of American business practices will have readers alternately smiling and grimacing, especially if they have had even a small glimpse into today's corporate America.