Syrup, by Max Barry
About fifteen years ago I read this novel when it first came out, and I remember finding it entertaining then, and it was certainly entertaining to read now, albeit on a somewhat different level and with a bit more sarcasm and irony about it. At its heart, this is a book that was written in order to skewer marketing  campaigns and the way that entertainment and advertising work to influence people based on psychology rather than on anything that is considered to be real and genuine, while also simultaneously skewering a hipster mentality that despises anything for being popular or related to money making. What is perhaps most revealing about the book is the groveling disclaimer at the beginning of the book that suggests a strong need to avoid some lawsuits from Coca Cola based on the way that this film pokes fun of how sodas are marketed, far beyond the usual authorial dodge that all portrayals of people in the book are imaginary even when they are not. The strongly worded, even cringy disclaimer is evidence of just how sharply the satire must have stung some of its early readers.
A basic and largely spoiler-free summary of the story goes as follows. A struggling young man whose parents moved to Iowa comes up with an idea for marketing an edgy soda with an unpronounceable name but fails to do his homework and allows his roommate and former friend to swipe the idea from him. Meanwhile, he finds himself in love with a fake lesbian who has her own struggles with the supposed patriarchy and receiving the respect that she feels she deserves while also having an aspiring actress and model that he crashes with whenever things go wrong as they frequently do. An increasingly improbable series of events and manipulations forces the people to work with famous actors in the creation of a film that is funded in large part by Coca Cola in order to promote its soda, and the reader cheers on our group of underdogs as they attempt to claim their place in the world of marketing and overcome the deeds of traitorous enemies who try to exploit the weaknesses they see in rivals. Whatever claims that this book does not reflect reality do not matter as much as the way that they appear to reflect reality, especially when one considers the massive amount of niche guerrilla marketing and product placement that goes on in our world.
This is, without a doubt, a pretty edgy story and not one that will receive universal acclaim. Even so, this book is like red meat to those who want to make fun of the way that business concerns and the practical psychological approach of marketing and advertising trump a great deal of what people think should be the case. The tale is told in snappy short segments for those who appear to have short attention spans and many of the main characters and even minor characters of this novel have annoying issues with their identity, choosing the most odd names as ways of distinguishing themselves. It is as if the author is not only trying to lampoon marketing techniques in our world and the ubiquity of product placement and the way that the behavior of people in films and televisions influences our own, but also the way that our identity is malleable and often used as a cheap way of making us appear different by joining the trends of covering up our true selves and our true experiences with all kinds of lies and fictions and subterfuges, as if we do not want anyone to know us or to accept that we are part of a common humanity worth being respected on our own merits.
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