Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Colamity

By Shelly Ridenour

JULY 12, 1999: 

Syrup by Maxx Barry (Viking) $23.95, 294 pages

Cola is a serious thing. An American way of life. A totem example of brand identity's indelible mark on our psyches. An unfathomably wealthy industry that thinks nothing of throwing kajillions of dollars into Super Bowl advertising campaigns. And, a backstabbing, Darwinian ecosystem where only the most cunning survive.

At least that's what Maxx Barry posits in his hilarious new satirical novel, "Syrup." Protagonist Scat -- just Scat -- wants to be famous. "I want to be so famous that movie stars hang out with me and talk about what a bummer their lives are. I want to beat up photographers who catch me in hotel lobbies with Winona Ryder. I want to be implicated in vicious rumors about Drew Barrymore's sex parties. I want the American Dream."

"Syrup" skewers itself from the inside-out; it is, as Spin put it, "a deft satirical indictment of an industry that makes its living pushing satire." Scat is an idea man. When he comes up with the perfect formula -- the name, the concept, the target market, but not the actual recipe -- for a new cola (Fukk, aimed at cynical twentysomethings), he turns to his charismatic roommate for help. Before you can say "one calorie," he's whisked through the doors of Coca-Cola, where the idea is a hit; such a hit that fellow ladder-climbers -- including, yep, the roommate -- try to steal it from him. What follows is a zippy tale of how Scat gets his groove -- his idea, his dream job, his acclaim, the girl and, most importantly, success -- back. His mentor and love interest is a conniving whippet of a self-marketing marketer, 6. (One of Scat's tips for success? Get yourself a pretentious name.)

"'She's a bitch,'" 6's roommate says. 'She's got to be in charge.'"

"'Well, I guess. But in business, that's leadership.'"

"'How about her inability to accept other points of view? Is it good leadership to be narrow, too?'"

"'Focus. They call that focus.'"

"'Her paranoia?'"

"'Business savvy.'"

"'Compulsive need to have everything just how she wants it?'"

"'Organizational skills.'"

"'Aggressiveness?'"

"'Aggressiveness is already a good thing.'"

"'Jesus Christ. Sometimes I worry about this country.'"

And the whole book zips along like that, arranged in soundbite scenes, building to a frenzied, if predictable, climax that involves Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow and, oh yeah, Winona. Barry has a deft ear for dialogue and a sharp-honed wit; makes you wonder why he's not writing Coke commercials.


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