James Patterson’s "The Store" Takes Aim at Amazon, and Misses
When the latest James Patterson-branded book came out last month, it got a lot of press attention for its choice of villain. The Store featured a thinly veiled Amazon as the world’s largest retailer dubbed The Store. It’s set in a time when The Store is the only book publisher and basically controls everything.
This take on Amazon intrigued me enough that I got on the waiting list at my local public library. My turn finally came this morning when I picked up a copy, and I’ve spent part of the day reading The Store.
I’m glad I didn’t spend any money on this book, because it’s not worth reading, much less buying.
The Store reads like a manifesto written by your conspiracy theory uncle after he had been handed a script for an episode from the late-1990s The Outer Limits. (In fact, I’m pretty sure this book has many similarities with a specific story from that series, but I can’t recall the title.)
This book focuses on a couple of Manhattan writers, Jacob and Megan Brandeis, who – for reasons never fully explained – are hired by The Store to work in a Nebraska warehouse. Oh, the writers are out to write a book-length expose on The Store, but it’s never explained why The Store would hire a couple of middle-aged writers for a physically demanding job like stock picker.
Very few of The Store’s actions are explained in this book; instead they are merely conveyed in a tone intended to keep you afraid without explaining or informing (think the nightly news, only more so).
The company town, New Burg, is ominously uniform in a Stepford Wives sort of way, which I suppose counts as frightening to those who did not grow up in suburbia, but it’s never made clear why The Store would build the town or why the surveillance or company control was made so oppressively obvious.
That’s just in the first twenty or so pages, and that lack of explanation really makes it hard to suspend disbelief for more than a few pages.
What is also hard to believe is how The Store is portrayed both as all-knowing and all-powerful and yet also incompetent.
The Store can see and do anything it wants, including vanishing critics and ex-employees, suppressing evidence of a car accident, and more or less engaging in mid control, and yet The Store was also unable to catch the protagonist, Jacob Brandeis, when he was on the run. It also can’t stop him from publishing the book, holding a press conference, etc.
So this all-powerful The Store can’t hire a hitman, engage in a smear campaign, or fake up some committal documents?
There’s just so much here that doesn’t add up, including the conclusion.
In the end Brandeis publishes his book, and so he has won, but The Store still exists and it continues to operate. It hasn’t been vanquished or defeated.
How is that a victory, exactly?
O O O
Don’t read this book. Patterson’s book isn’t worth the bother because one, it’s just not that good, and two, the same concept has been done many times before, in depth, with nuance, by better writers.
Instead of The Store, you could read any of several nonfiction books about Amazon.
Or, if you want to read about out of control consumerism, Frederick Pohl wrote a couple books titled The Space Merchants (Amazon, Wikipedia) and The Merchant’s War (Amazon, Wikipedia). They are not available as ebooks but they are worth reading.
Or, if you want to read about companies taking away user rights, try Richard Stallman’s dystopian The Right to Read (it’s free).
Or if you want a chilling and plausible tale of a tech company gaining control through spying on everything you do, try Cory Doctorow’s Scroogled (also free). I can also recommend the about half of his nonfiction that touches on the same issues (Content would be a good place to start).
There is a long list of works that are more worth your time than this book (including, in my opinion, dinosaur erotica).
image by hnnbz
Chris September 12, 2017 um 9:10 pm
I appreciate your review. I also appreciate that you made some recommendations. I am reading books on consumerism right now and I would like to add some titles to my list.
However, I do take issue with "…never explained why The Store would hire a couple of middle-aged writers for a physically demanding job like stock picker." You seem to be assuming that middle-aged writers couldn’t possibly be fit enough to do a physically demanding job. It is unfortunate that you feel that way. There is enough age bias in the work world without you adding to it.
Nate Hoffelder September 12, 2017 um 10:42 pm
I have worked warehouse jobs, and by all accounts Amazon’s warehouses are even more brutal than everyone else’s.
so yes, there’s good reason to question why The Store would hire a couple writers to work as stock pickers.
Nate Hoffelder September 20, 2017 um 12:13 pm
I found a partial answer to my question. it seems I was wrong to think that the protagonists were too old:
Chris Meadows September 12, 2017 um 11:17 pm
The Space Merchants is a favorite of mine. It’s also the source of the name Soylent picked for one of its pre-packaged flavors, "Coffiest." The beverage features in a wickedly satirical joke in which it’s described as containing a mildly addictive alkaloid that would be more trouble to kick the habit than to keep on buying and drinking. Sounds nasty and evil, right?
You have to read between the lines to realize that description also applies verbatim to plain old coffee (with caffeine being the mildly addictive alkaloid in question).
Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2017 um 8:17 am
I liked the sequel more. It had greater depth and detail, and its plotting came closer to the ideal set by "The Jungle" and "Wizard of Oz". In the case of "The Merchant’s War", we got a tour of many different parts of a society, and thus more of its ills than we saw in the first book.
Chris Meadows September 12, 2017 um 11:23 pm
Oh, and also, if you’d like to read a witty satire about mega-corp-owned publishers conspiring to strangle the ebook in its crib, check out Ben Bova’s Cyberbooks, available as part of the anthology Laugh Lines. (Also included is The Starcrossed, based on Ben Bova’s experience working with (and featuring a lightly tuckerized version of) Harlan Ellison on a terrible, terrible Canadian science fiction television series.)
Mark Williams Int. September 13, 2017 um 4:16 am
Patterson has definitely lost the plot. Talk about unrealistic! Everyone knows Amazon can "hire a hitman, engage in a smear campaign, or fake up some committal documents" whenever it wants.
Henry September 13, 2017 um 7:01 am
Note that Fred Pohl did not write The Space Merchants or The Merchant’s War by himself. Both books were co-written by C.M. Kornbluth, an excellent SF author in his own right, who died at the age of 34. One can only wonder at the stories the world lost when he died, but I suspect he’d have had a stellar career.
Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2017 um 8:14 am
Both? I wouldn’t be sure. The two books were published 40 years apart, and Kornbluth wasn’t credited on the second one.
Henry September 14, 2017 um 5:30 am
No, you’re right. Kornbluth co-wrote The Space Merchants but not the other.
Harvey Stanbrough September 13, 2017 um 7:24 am
Haven’t read this book (and won’t), but after listening to all the hype I finally picked up a couple of Patterson thrillers second hand to read. In both cases I didn’t make it through even the first chapter, and the chapters are very short. This guy is a terrible writer and even less of a storyteller. But a masterful marketer.
Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2017 um 7:29 am
He’s not even a writer any more. he plots the books, and for the most part someone else writes them.
Allen F September 13, 2017 um 11:06 am
Poor Patterson, all the good ghostwriters are writing their own books to sell on Amazon, leaving him with the ones that can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag …
'James Patterson – proof that trad-pub can sell books even worse than most unedited indie/self-pub writers' offerings.'
Thank you, James Patterson, you’re making us look good! 😉
jseger9000 September 13, 2017 um 11:46 am
A horror writer I like, Bentley Little, also wrote a horror/satire book called The Store. In this case it is a takedown of Walmart rather than Amazon and (being a horror novel) the implausibility isn’t such an issue.
Why is it that so often authors use the capitalized version of a generic noun as the name of their villain? How many books have I read where the evil entity is just known as The Store, The Corporation or their evil plan is called The Plan?
Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2017 um 12:32 pm
Or, "The Firm".
Sam Greene June 17, 2022 um 3:00 pm
The point of the Little book is the entity…the store is part of an overarching thing that runs through a lot of his books. The store is in a sense a living thing.
Mark Williams Int. September 13, 2017 um 3:30 pm
I’m not sure Grisham would have had as much success if he’d called his novel "Bendini, Lambert & Locke."