A Look At Syrup By Max Barry
When you think of a soda brand what do you think of? Most people will think Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and the majority (like myself) will name Coca-Cola. What most people don’t consider when they think about Coca-Cola is how much marketing is involved to sell their products. Considering how much is sold worldwide, one can imagine marketing is very important to Coca-Cola. Max Barry’s novel, Syrup, explores the world of marketing through the eyes of Scat, a marketing genius with the multi-million dollar ideas. Of course, business is not always fair play and not everyone is rewarded; Scat must face the ruthlessness of the business world in order to achieve the fame and glory he justly deserves.
Syrup was Max Barry’s debut novel, released in 1999. Before then, he worked as a marketer selling computer systems for Hewlett-Packard. For this novel, Australian contemporary writer, Max, had his name printed as “Maxx” as a marketing joke but did not continue for his later novels. Since Syrup, Max has written more novels, including Jennifer Government, Company, and Machine Man, a few short stories, and maintains his own blog; likewise, he is the creator of an online political simulator game called NationStates.
A majority of Max Barry’s works contain an economical/political theme, generally portraying big business in a negative light while highlighting how the individual can easily be taken advantage of and quickly abused by the companies he works for. Syrup portrays this through the protagonist Scat who gives readers an inside look on how large corporations use advertising and marketing schemes to fool the public while simultaneously reaping huge products through under-handed means. Scat also becomes victim to the Coca-Cola corporation he tries to impress with his marketing ideas, while his rival (which will remain nameless as to prevent spoilers) tries to sabotage his efforts to succeed. Every new marketing idea, every new advertisement Scat creates, each one more fantastical than the last, Scat gets no credit for and he constantly must suffer the fate of an eternal loser while trying to redeem himself over and over.
Another common aspect of Barry’s works is his ability to apply humor/comic relief to any situation, especially towards his protagonist’s love interest. Scat falls in love with Coke’s marketing executive, 6, a self-proclaimed lesbian, and together they try to break the mold of Coke’s successful marketing strategies with revolutionary ideas. Of course, Scat’s interest seems like an inevitable failure but as Scat points out, everything is marketing including love and sex. The whole situation is so bizarre that it is unrealistic yet, ironically enough, believable. The reader can’t help but laugh at the absurd scenes between the two as Scat tries to constantly impress 6, while 6 counters with odd behaviors and responses, leaving one unsure if she is genuine or cleverly marketing herself through unorthodox means.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to give a brief summary of Syrup without spoiling since the story includes many unforeseeable plot twists, but the story starts with Scat’s great idea- black can, called Fukk. Silly as it may sound, this idea almost set Scat on a path to riches and fame but was stolen from him by a simple patent placed before Scat could patent the idea. From there, Scat faces the uneven playing field of big business, trying hard to gain credit for his work, only for his work to be stolen from him or for smarter businessmen to take credit for his ideas. Eventually, Scat gets a final opportunity to prove himself with a break-through advertising scheme: an entire movie that also doubles as an advertisement. With 6 helping him, they struggle against time, corporate rules, and the under-handed sabotage of bosses who fear for their positions.
California makes the ideal location for this novel, considering the state itself is a giant marketing tool; and in a world like ours, every dirty marketing scheme presented is easily accepted as truth. Barry has no problems using situations that we see in our everyday lives and revealing the hidden intents behind each case, portraying the simplest and common marketing schemes that anyone in a civilized world would be familiar with and showing how big business profits from it at someone else’s expense. The setting is also ironic considering how much Barry portrays capitalism as evil and corrupt and putting a metaphorical capital empire (in this case, Coca-Cola) in a highly liberal state that is far from promoting capitalist/conservative ideas.
Syrup really shines on its own while revealing some of the best aspects of Max Barry’s works. Its uniqueness and clever themes makes it believable yet so unrealistic. His economic views, while they seem harsh, are hard to dispute and shrewdly backed up with real-world examples. It is hard not to relate to Scat’s woes and to feel his pain as he struggles to achieve his deserved success. All of these things, while they are unique to this novel, have similar aspects in Barry’s other works. This contemporary writer’s works are great not only for our tough economic times, but I feel will be timeless classics.
Image Credit: MaxBarry.com