Sunday, July 6, 2008

Then We Came to the End-Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris wrote his first novel, Then We Came to the End, about a group of people who work in an advertising agency. Most of the diverse group have little in common, except for their job. They don't hang out on weekends, they don't call each other "just to talk" after work, and they don't truly know much about each others' personal lives, except what overlaps with the job, or happens at the office.

Like with many office workers, there are times of the day when they need a break from sitting behind a desk and staring at a computer screen. Thus, they have found a few distractions, and these seem to be broken into 2 options--gossipping or playing pranks. Gossip--whether in a co-worker's office, in the hallway, or at the coffee cart--seems to be common in office settings. However, this agency is a breeding ground for gossip, as business is not good, and layoffs are common. Along with formulating reasons for the most recent layoff, speculating who will be next is a conversation that takes place over and over, even within the same day. The pranks that are pulled go far beyond harmless humor, but instead seem to be intentionally hurtful. Though there may be a ringleader to these pranks, no one is willing to "rat out" their co-workers.

Though quite humorous at the beginning, this book quickly turns dark. Most of the people seem to be unhappy with not only their jobs, but with their lives in general. While there isn't necessarily one main character, none of the various characters are very likable. As a whole, they are petty and mean, and I found it difficult to find any redeeming qualities. Benny is the guy who is well-liked by the majority, but I never figured out why. Joe seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and generally stays away from the gossip, but he has little to no personality, and is definitely forgettable. Tom is completely unpredictable, is beyond rude to almost everyone, and is probably certifiably crazy. Interwoven with the daily happenings at the office, there are glimpses into the personal lives of some of the characters, but they are brief. Though these glimpses helped me to understand somewhat why some of the characters act like they do, I only found myself feeling sorry for some, and really disliking others. I did not truly LIKE any.

I think the fact that most of the entire novel is written in the first person plural ("we") perspective only added to my overall discomfort with the book. In the author interview at the back of the book, Ferris explains why he chose to write in this perspective. He says that "Companies tend to refer to themselves in the first-person plural--in annual reports, corporate brochures, within meetings advertising...It's not just a company's way of showing unity and strength; it's also a matter of making everyone feel as if they're a member of the club." In theory, this is a genius idea--to write a book about a group of corporate employees all talking as one. However, I found it confusing, and I was always trying to figure out who was talking. Also, I could have done without the language. It was not at all necessary, nor did it add in any way to the story.

This is the first book I have read in a couple of months that wasn't for a challenge. I had heard good reviews, and I was greatly looking forward to reading it. I work in a cubicle in a typical office, and I was expecting a light, funny and relatable book about the antics and lives of other office workers. In no way was this a light book. There were a few funny parts, but they all occurred at the beginning, and while I could relate here and there to generalities of working in an office, I could not relate to any of the characters. In all honesty, I think I simply did not understand the book and it's purpose. If anything, reading this book made me extremely thankful for the office I work in and the people I work with!

Date completed: July 3, 2008
# of pages: 385


Literary Feline said...

My office certainly has its share of gossip and pranks, but I don't think it is quite to the level you describe that exists in this book. The "we" perspective is quite interesting. It's too bad it didn't work well in the end.

Great review, Laura!

Becca said...

Aw, I'm sad to hear it turned out not to be so good. I love books about offices where they play pranks on each other. You should check out Jpod by Coupland. It's got some weird stuff in it but for the most part it's a just a fun book about a video game development office. It's an interesting look at corporations and does a great job of making fun of the tech generation in a clever way.

Jeane said...

I've read one book recently that was written entirely in "we"- it was very annoying at first, but by the end I hardly noticed it.

Laura said...

~LF-I'm thinking that pranks and gossip are pretty common in most offices, but I think there is a line that can be crossed with both. Fortunately, I really enjoy my co-workers, so I feel lucky!

~Becca-Yes, I was very disappointed, but I think there are many other people who really enjoyed this book! I've never heard of Jpod. Even though this book wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, I did like reading about a similar, yet different office environment than what I'm used to.

~Jeane-I thought I would get used to the "we" perspective, but I just kept trying to figure out who was talking! I think maybe I'm too traditional of a reader or something! It was interesting to branch out a bit and try something new though!

Tiffany Norris said...

Sounds sad! I enjoyed reading your review, though.

Karen said...

Buckshelves. You are lucky to work with such great people.

Trish said...

Yikes!! 2 reasons why I don't think I'd like this book--first, I have a difficult time reading something when I can't relate to or even like any of the characters. Second, there is a difference between fun and joking and being flat out mean and while we all have our moments (ok, while I have my moments), reading about people continually being mean to others doesn't sound enjoyable.

It makes me really curious to know what happens in the end. Does the entire office blow up? Seems like it would be difficult to resolve such negativity.

verbatim said...

I really enjoyed this book and the multiple perspectives from which the characters were viewed -- is the person in the cubicle next to you just quirky, or certifiable? I've worked in the ad industry, and the sense of self-importance employees had is accurately portrayed here and really made me laugh out loud at times. In the end, though, I found the characters rose to the occasion when it mattered and realized they were more of a family than maybe they previously realized.