Thursday, January 10, 2008

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris


Joshua Ferris’s novel Then We Came to the End is the story of life in an advertising agency in Chicago, in the post-internet boom years, but pre-9/11, when corporate downsizing was everyone’s greatest fear. The book has been touted as a hilarious look at office life, and it certainly is, but I think Ferris achieves more here—he writes a good story.

Certainly this is the best book about the mind-numbing boredom of office life that I’ve ever read (and I've worked in plenty of mind-numbing office jobs). Which is another way of saying Ferris has converted all of the wonderful, horrible details of life in an office into good entertainment. The tone is pitch-perfect, as Ferris takes a risk and writes in first-person plural, narrating as “we”, throughout, and he relates the best gossipy, petty, and sometimes silly behavior of these office mates with relish and great style.

But though a truly funny book about the politics and pettiness at the office might be a fun read, I also found an underlying depth to the story that made it just a little bit more. Ferris seems to be skimming along, telling the stories of these everymen, these people we’ve all worked with, but actually the stories all become very moving, and I suddenly came to realize Ferris is dealing with all the big issues, too: mid-life crises, cancer, the death of a child, mental illness—it’s all in there.

And the ending, which I won’t give away here, really brings it all together for me. I have to admit I was surprised that this was on so many “top books of 2007” lists, but upon reflection, I see why it is there. While not laugh-out-loud funny, it is sly and smart and a spot-on look at human nature, and there is more here than first meets the eye.

13 comments:

Joy said...

Oh! This is on my TBR list, but you make me want to read it NOW. :)

Gentle Reader said...

joy--having worked (very briefly) in advertising, I found this very true and very funny. Hope you like it :)

litlove said...

I bought this for my husband for Christmas and he has just started it. Thank you for the lovely review!

ps - I can't believe the writer's strike is still going on! Do hope you are all doing ok.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--let me know if he likes it! It reminds me a little of Nick Hornby's sensibility. I wonder if the Americanisms will be interesting or annoying to your hubby.

And yes, the writer's strike is still on and driving us all crazy. My husband is around the house an awful lot! Actually, I'm enjoying that, but it's (obviously) stressful that he's not working. And it's taking a toll on the whole city of L.A., because so many other businesses are dependent on the movie and TV business. Anyway, we're all hoping something positive happens soon. Thanks for your concern :)

melanie said...

I was going back and forth about after getting a few pages in and abandoning it. but now I shall forge ahead - thanks for the review.

Gentle Reader said...

melanie--did the "we" narrator annoy you? I can see this might not be for everyone, it feels gimmicky at first. But later, as the characters got more distinct, and more developed, I liked it. Hope I'm not leading you down the garden path, and you like it too!

baddict said...

This was one of my favorite books of last year. I've worked a few office jobs myself, and while I found it funny, I found Ferris' book touching more than anything else. I found the themes of loss, loneliness, illness, and love the most intriguing of all, probably because they caught me by surprise. I was expecting a book written purely for the laughs, which thankfully it wasn't. I'm really glad you liked it.

Gentle Reader said...

j.s.--I, too, was surprised by how touching the book was--I expected pure laughs, too, and the emotional punch took me by surprise, in a good way :)

jenclair said...

Great review of a book that I was not even considering. You really piqued my interest here!

Gentle Reader said...

jenclair--I'm glad I piqued your interest! That's what I love about reading book blogs--I check out books I never would have considered before!

logophile said...

Gentle Reader, I've been wondering about this book and your review has tipped the scales. Since I'm currently still in an office environment, it would be good to read something about my world! And he's doing a reading at the London Word Festival in late Feb which I'm thinking about getting tickets to...

Gentle Reader said...

logophile--if you go to the reading, let me know if you like it!

Anonymous said...

Hi1

I have just finished a novel about life inside of an AMERICAN CALL CANTER -- entitled, HANDLE TiME. Call center life is a bit different from the regular office experience; and not many people outside of that world understand what actually goes on. If you are interested in reading HANDLE TiME, I would be delighted to send you a pre-pub PDF; or have my publisher sent you a post-pub packet. HANDLE TiME is due out towards the end of this month 9May, 2008).

Please email me at handletimefan@yahoo.com if you are interested.

Thanks!

LiNCOLN PARK