Play on Words by Mike Harrison

Play on Words

A Grand Satire of Commercialization
Email this review


A debut satirical novel explores the commercialized modern world.

With degrees in business and engineering, Emily England finds a well-paying job as an operations officer at a manufacturing company. Though she must answer to the frequently blunt CEO, one “very stubborn senior citizen” called Mr. Sir, her occupation brings her face to face with “everything that made the modern-world tick.” Unfortunately for Emily, it is just such a world that has made her increasingly unsatisfied. Whether it is the many odd chemicals in her mass-produced food or the sheer size of many corporations (“faceless, monolithic entities,” she calls them), she encounters much to gripe about. Fortunately for Emily, she meets a guy named Mike Harrison, a man in whom she finds a kindred soul. With their relationship blossoming, the two dream of one day escaping their daily grinds and living off the grid the way that two of Mike’s friends do. Meanwhile, Emily’s sister Elizabeth gives lectures on the evolution of modern English and the present-day state of the language. A popular professor, she dislikes Shakespeare and manages to amuse her rapt audience (“Elizabeth waited to let everyone calm down and stop laughing”). What is the reader to make of all this modernity? As bizarre a convergence as it seems, this story contains an odd mix of scenes. Elizabeth’s lectures will certainly interest readers keen on the development of language, though Emily’s time spent at work and in corporate meetings becomes drab indeed. After Mr. Sir offers to stop by the engineering department, the reader is told that “Mr. Sir was sympathetic with production unlike a lot of other chief executives.” Lacking any of the comedy or zaniness of a punchier narrative, the book may leave readers feeling as though they too are attending a meeting of questionable benefit. Brief, at well under 200 pages, and meandering enough to include a mock Wikipedia entry, punks with names like Tough-puff, and telepathy, the novel certainly moves in strange directions.

While some portions prove of limited interest, this tale encompasses a number of surprising landscapes.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4958-0678-0
Page count: 142pp
Publisher: Infinity Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


FictionSWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell
by Karen Russell
FictionTHE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers
by Dave Eggers
FictionSUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY by Gary Shteyngart
by Gary Shteyngart