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.