Book Review: ‘Then We Came to the End’ by Joshua Ferris
Then We Came to the End is another book I bought years ago but only got around to recently. At the time, I was deeply depressed about my job, which attracted me to the award-winning debut novel by Joshua Ferris, which was described on the cover as a very realistic and hilarious depiction of an office environment. The other reason I bought this book may have been because it was on special.
In a nutshell, Then We Came to the End was somewhat uneven but still pretty good. It is told from the perspective of a nameless narrator who is part of the action but mostly observes as a bystander who picks up a lot of gossip. The story is set in aChicago advertising agency in the 90s, right around the end of the internet boom.
For a while, however, I had no idea about the industry it was taking place in, and it didn’t really bother me. Anyone who has worked in an office environment will probably be able to identify all, if not most of the characters, or at least most of the character traits, displayed in this book.
There’s the office gossipmonger, the depressed wretch struck by tragedy, the office clown (or psycho), the potentially closet homosexual and of course, the lonely boss woman who gave up her life for a career — amongst many others. I was impressed with Ferris’s ability to keep track of all of them, giving each distinct personalities and quirks. Everyone is a little crazy, neurotic and paranoid about even the most banal, pointless things (such as who took who’s office chair), and they know it, too.
The tone of the novel is generally satirical, and while I wouldn’t say it was consistently laugh-out-loud funny, I did have a few chuckles here and there, predominantly attributable to the nutty contributions from Tom Mota, the sensitive/insensitive office time bomb. Most of the jokes were based around the absurdity of office culture and it was certainly something I could relate to despite being from a completely different field.
The weirdest part about the 387-page book is that it takes a bizarre turn around the middle that made no sense to me whatsoever. After plodding along nicely with a series of amusing office anecdotes told from the first person perspective of the anonymous narrator, the novel suddenly switched to third person to tell the sad, lonely story of Lynn Mason, the boss woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not that it was poorly written, but the story and the tone of it felt totally out of place for the book, so much so that when it eventually returned to its original style (for the finale) I still had trouble getting back into it. I understand that the story had to be told from third person because the narrator couldn’t have known aboutLynn’s private life, but still, I found it utterly bewildering.
To Ferris’s credit, the book picks up momentum again as it heads towards its explosive finale, which, all things considered, was well executed. My main complaint about it was its sentimental postscript, which made me feel like I had been watching The Breakfast Club rather than reading a satire about how working in an office drives us insane.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel for its message and wit. Personally, I think it might have been more effective as a thinner, slightly more relentless book, but on the whole it was still a worthwhile read.
3.5 out of 5