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Then We Came to the End: A Novelby Joshua Ferris
Then We Came to the End tells the story of an ad agency in decline, circa 2001. "We had a toy client, a car client, a long-distance carrier and a pet store," readers are told. We. Ferris uses the first person plural to present the agency's collective voice in the midst of ongoing layoffs. It's an audacious narrative gimmick that could easily collapse, and yet it never does.
Nick Hornby describes the novel as "The Office meets Kafka. It's Seinfeld rewritten by Donald Barthelme." Me, I was reminded by particular scenes and motifs of Donald Antrim and Don DeLillo, but so many comparisons will only obscure the fact that Ferris has concocted something truly original. Splice it any way you like, Then We Came to the End was my favorite book of the year.
"[A] very funny debut novel....Set at a Chicago ad agency at the turn of the century, Ferris's novel is for anyone who chuckles over Dilbert, can recite lines from Office Space, or has an appointment on Thursday nights with The Office. Then We Came to the End is a vicious sendup of cubicle culture that somehow manages not to lose sight of its characters' humanity." Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
Synopses & Reviews
This wickedly funny, big-hearted novel about life in the office signals the arrival of a gloriously talented new writer.
The characters in Then We Came to the End cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, secret romance, elaborate pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks. By day they compete for the best office furniture left behind and try to make sense of the mysterious pro-bono ad campaign that is their only remaining "work."
"In this wildly funny debut from former ad man Ferris, a group of copywriters and designers at a Chicago ad agency face layoffs at the end of the '90s boom. Indignation rises over the rightful owner of a particularly coveted chair ('We felt deceived'). Gonzo e-mailer Tom Mota quotes Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the midst of his tirades, desperately trying to retain a shred of integrity at a job that requires a ruthless attention to what will make people buy things. Jealousy toward the aloof and 'inscrutable' middle manager Joe Pope spins out of control. Copywriter Chris Yop secretly returns to the office after he's laid off to prove his worth. Rumors that supervisor Lynn Mason has breast cancer inspire blood lust, remorse, compassion. Ferris has the downward-spiraling office down cold, and his use of the narrative 'we' brilliantly conveys the collective fear, pettiness, idiocy and also humanity of high-level office drones as anxiety rises to a fever pitch. Only once does Ferris shift from the first person plural (for an extended fugue on Lynn's realization that she may be ill), and the perspective feels natural throughout. At once delightfully freakish and entirely credible, Ferris's cast makes a real impression." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The Office meets Kafka. It's Seinfeld rewritten by Donald Barthelme. It's Office Space reimagined by Nicholson....[U]nderneath the politicking and the sackings and the petty jealousies you can hear something else: the sound of our lives (that collective pronoun again) ticking away." Nick Hornby, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt
"This debut novel about life in a Chicago advertising agency succeeds as both a wickedly incisive satire of office groupthink and a surprisingly moving meditation on mortality and the ties that band." Kirkus Reviews
"With so many books on office life, it's nice to see someone add fresh spark and originality to the subject. Nick Hornby praised this as 'a terrific first novel,' foreshadowing a positive public reception." Library Journal
"Ferris' motley officemates fixate, often hilariously, on furniture, practical jokes, and whether or not their boss does, in fact, have cancer....I would've enjoyed the novel a lot more had it been a hundred pages shorter. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Brilliant and incredibly funny... An insightful, expansive, and often hilarious story, a novel so complex it may well deserve Jim Shepard's assessment: 'the Catch-22 of the business world.'" Maud Newton, Newsday
"A savagely funny yet kind-hearted tale of office life... You won't find a sharper portrait of the dislocated camaraderie that's born of sitting elbow to elbow with people you'd ordinarily cross the street to avoid." The Observer
"[An] assured debut and an entertaining read." San Francisco Chronicle
"[W]hat looks at first glance like a sweet-tempered satire of workplace culture is revealed upon closer inspection to be a very serious novel about, well, America. It may even be, in its own modest way, a great American novel." Los Angeles Times
"Ferris' writing displays a strong descriptive flair, but the greatest asset of Then We Came to the End is the nuance of its narrative voice, which has the gossipy warmth and seeming closeness of a conspiratorial co-worker leaning over a partition to impart the latest rumor." Chicago Tribune
"A hilarious and knowing evisceration of the hopes, dreams, and grim realities of cubicle life, penned with a witty DeVriesian sharpness, Then We Came to the End is a brillian debut." Katharine Weber, author of Triangle and The Music Lesson
"I read this novel remembering why I ever wanted to read fiction, why I want to write....It is also one of the funniest novels I have ever read." Geoffrey Wolff, author of The Duke of Deception and The Age of Consent
"A wildly original, totally off-the-wall, all-around wonderful first novel. Then We Came to the End moves only briefly beyond the confines of the workplace but encompasses a whole world of feeling. Laugh? It almost made me wish I had a job." Geoff Dyer, author of Out of Sheer Rage and But Beautiful
"Then We Came to the End is the Catch-22 of the business world: it's a hilarious and heartbreaking and surreal portrait of the modern American corporation as a carnival preschool? — of infantile misbehavior and breathtakingly futile and petty and despairing competition. The real revelation here is how moving it all becomes: how much humnaity and genuine emotional weight finally, against all odds, shine through."Jim Shephard, author of Love and Hydrogen and Lights Out in the Reptile Room
No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts.
About the Author
Joshua Ferris received a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. His fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, Best New American Voices 2005, and Prairie Schooner. He was born in Danville, Illinois, grew up in Key West, and now lives in Brooklyn.
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