REVIEW: The Age
September 11, 1999
...In Syrup, Maxx (yes, that's two Xs) Barry has created a very different kind of novel, although not without its share of mean and cynical characters, all within the heady world of marketing in big corporate America.
Scat (not his real name) wants to be famous. He's a bright kid, to be sure, but he needs something else. He needs to think of one of the three "million-dollar ideas" that (according to him) occur to most people every year. Deep inside the headquarters of Coca-Cola, the first one is promptly stolen by the book's villain, the truly hideous Sneaky Pete, and the battle royal that erupts about the second occupies most of the subsequent story.
Everyone's actions are entirely morally suspect in this very contemporary story and Barry has captured an appropriately smooth, slick style that hurtles along at breakneck speed. Occasionally we are drawn into some eyebrow-raising passages of disbelief suspension, such as when our heroes are expected to complete a Hollywood feature in little over a lunchtime, but the characters are so recognisable and engaging that nearly all is forgiven in the pace and zest of the plot.
Despite its genuinely hip credentials, Syrup is in many ways an old-fashioned novel, with a sub-plot that develops into a typical boy-meets-girl situation. The love interest in question is one of Barry's most intriguing creations, the beautiful and mysterious 6 (that's it, just 6 -- you'll have to read it to find out why). 6 is a cold, hard-hearted 21-year-old whiz-kid on a rocket up the corporate ladder. That is until she meets Scat, whose unpredictable genius sends her career off the rails, at which point she starts to become far more interesting.
Barry writes with genuine irony about the corporate world and it is to his credit that he manages to elicit genuine affection for his main characters, devoured by greed and ambition as they are. The fast, dangerous corporate cloak-and-dagger atmosphere inside Coca-Cola succeeds because, at all times, the stakes for the characters are genuinely high. Even so, there is at all times a deep level of irony that questions the facile and morally bankrupt quest for money and power among the young and upwardly mobile of the late 20th century.