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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Then We Came to the End: A Novel » User review

Then we came to the end and no one seemed to notice or care

  • Aug 25, 2010
Rating:
-5
Pros: You'll turn pages fairly fast

Cons: You will turn them fast to get to the end rather than enjoy the trip

The Bottom Line: If you work in a strange, dull office and want to read about a strange dull office, read this. Otherwise, there are tons of books available that aren't this one.

Let’s see. There is a story about a group of weird people in an office facing downsizing. I think I’ve run into this story. Oh, yes, I have—twice . . . oops three times.

I bought Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End in March. I began reading it when it was nominated for a National Book Award. I normally do not say this, but: What were they thinking?

What I will do by way of plot is present it as my brain processed it. An unnamed narrator works for an ad agency at the end of the Dot Com bust when many co-workers are laid off; all of the main narrative takes place only in the office. That much is pretty simple. Beyond that . . .

There are characters named Joe, Lynn, Tom, Marcia, Amber, Larry, Brizz, Dave, Karen, Chris, and a few others. Each of these characters has one or more of the following traits or histories: interoffice affairs, interoffice crushes, divorces, separations, cancer, paranoia (loads of that), heavy smoking, death, deep personal loss, sexual ambiguity, failed screenwriting, failed novels; they also have strange habits that include eating the same thing every day, always wearing a Cubs hat, always being first to hear a rumor, taking pills from a co-worker; hatred of a wife whose job is “more meaningful.”

The problem is two fold: there is enough information to keep the characters separate, barely, and finally, who cares? I think even a well informed and well practiced reader of belle lettres might be vaguely interested in the narratology used in Then We Came to the End. Just past the middle of the novel, the narrative changes from the half-interested first person for most of the novel to the omniscient third person. The reason for why and its potential puzzle are not that difficult to sort out. Again, though, even those refined in the analysis of narrative will not puzzle long enough to get much out of the novel.

I hazard a guess that a decent portion of "lunchers" work in offices. Each of the people above matched with one or more trait exist in your offices. I have an office whose population has more traits than those listed above and my office isn’t much larger than the one in the novel. To me, this is the novelist’s equivalent to the comedian’s airport jokes.

I cannot stand when a comedian has a routine that involves an airport, airplane, or literally anything at all that covers air travel at any time in history (flying carpets not excepted). I know they spend a large amount of time in airports and most of us can empathize, but to me this just speaks of a lack of material, imagination, or maybe just a sense of humor in the longer run. A novelist writing about life in an office while they work in an office . . . a total analog to me (I wrote a similar review of Adam Rapp’s The Year of Endless Sorrow—and Mr. Rapp is one of my favorite authors). Just because a story has been told before does not mean it cannot be told again in a different way. First, different ways do not always mean better and second, there isn’t really anything all that different in Then We Came to the End.

I will close this unusually short book review like this: my creative writing professor said you can write a book about boredom without it being boring. This novel is just another book about minor anxieties at an office, this one in Chicago. Change the city, change the names, you can even change the idiosyncrasies and it would still be just another book about a vaguely annoying office.

For an even more disparaging review, see The Unnamed (2010) which is the worst book I've finished in living memory.

Recommended:
No

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More Then We Came to the End: A Nov... reviews
review by . February 16, 2008
Very good first novel captures the essence of the transcendence and banality in the workplace many of us face in the Cubicle Age. This is the novel many of us have wanted to write after that one life-changing project ended, probably badly as most do, and as Ferris's does.     It matches my experience on a six-year project that ended with threats of lawsuits between our company and the client, with people leaving the team one by one at first, then with acrimony as those leaving …
review by . December 29, 2007
This book is showing up on several year-end "best of 2007" lists. Deservedly so, in my opinion. A fictional account of life in a pre 9/11 Chicago advertising agency that is hitting hard times and where downsizing is suddenly a weekly reality, it's enormously readable. In part, because of the irresistibly gossipy tone that is maintained throughout, also because the author is pitch-perfect at capturing the mixture of minor irritations, backstabbing, politics, and genuine fear for one's security that …
review by . April 13, 2007
I generally check fiction out of the library, because I read most novels only once. The fiction on my shelves is mostly the classics. That said, I borrowed Then We Came to the End from the library--but I should have bought it. This book is destined to become a classic.     Other than one section, the book is written from the first person plural and is done so with expertise. It is the story of a group of people from an advertising agency and the employees are being laid off, …
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Wiki

Amazon Best of the Month Spotlight Title, April 2007: It's 2001. The dot-com bubble has burst and rolling layoffs have hit an unnamed Chicago advertising firm sending employees into an escalating siege mentality as their numbers dwindle. As a parade of employees depart, bankers boxes filled with their personal effects, those left behind raid their fallen comrades' offices, sifting through the detritus for the errant desk lamp or Aeron chair. Written with confidence in the tricky-to-pull-off first-person plural, the collective fishbowl perspective of the "we" voice nails the dynamics of cubicle culture--the deadlines, the gossip, the elaborate pranks to break the boredom, the joy of discovering free food in the breakroom. Arch, achingly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt, it's a view of how your work becomes a symbiotic part of your life. A dysfunctional family of misfits forced together and fondly remembered as it falls apart. Praised as "theCatch-22of the business world" and "The Officemeets Kafka," I'm happy to report that Joshua Ferris's brilliant debut lives up to every ounce of pre-publication hype and instantly became one of my favorite books of the year.--Brad Thomas Parsons
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Details

ISBN-10: 0316016381
ISBN-13: 978-0316016384
Author: Joshua Ferris
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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