Bob Minzeshelmer
July 8, 1999

The difference between a satirist and a humorist, as author Peter DeVries put it, "is that the satirist shoots to kill while the humorist brings his prey back alive."

Two killer satirists are out with novels that lampoon targets as obvious as a lumbering moose that has come over to check out the funny little men dressed in camouflage and toting shotguns. But both Maxx Barry, who takes on marketing and Hollywood in Syrup, and Benjamin Cheever, who takes aim at the media, especially book publishers, in Famous After Death, are wickedly funny, if heavy-handed at times.

Syrup is all about office politics at the Coca-Cola Co., as told by a young would-be marketer who says, "I know Coke is one part faintly repulsive black syrup, seven parts water and forty-two parts marketing, but I still drink it. Perception is reality."

As for marketing, he says it's "like L.A. It's like a gorgeous, brainless model in L.A. A gorgeous, brainless model on cocaine having sex drinking Perrier in L.A. That's the best way I know how to describe it."

What passes for plot -- told in hundreds of episodic bursts, all subtitled -- involves a cynical idea for a beverage that is cynically stolen, then leads to the most expensive commercial in history: a $140 million film about Coke starring Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow. It's a Seinfeld kind of novel, self-absorbed, seductively hip, mostly attitude.

The author is a 25-year-old Australian who is described as "a survivor from the trenches of corporate marketing." Some of his best lines are asides, a series of marketing case studies. One advises that the best part of marketing cigarettes, "a product that kills its customers," is that "you get to defend the act of selling a product your customers can't stop buying by claiming they have freedom of choice."