THEN WE CAME TO THE END Joshua Ferris
Considering that most of us spend most of our time in cubicles, it’s surprising there aren’t more novels about office life. Which is among the reasons that Joshua Ferris’ debut novel is so welcome. (The title, by the way, is drawn from the first sentence of DeLillo’s Americana.)
Based in a Chicago ad agency that’s undergoing hard times, it shows how copywriters, art directors and account people spend their time gossiping, backbiting, reacting to layoffs, playing musical chairs and – occasionally – working. Told almost entirely in first person plural (also employed by Jeffrey Eugenides in The Virgin Suicides), it is irreverent, ironic, black-humoured and, surprisingly, touching. Ferris navigates the challenges of this point of view with aplomb, never letting it become too impersonal: will the ageing copywriter get over being laid-off, will the managing partner recover from cancer, will the couples stay together or part ways?
In many ways, Then We Came to the End is a cross between BBC’s The Office and Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, with sprinkings of Dilbert-like absurdity and Bartleby-like resignation. What’s original is Ferris’ satirical take on employees veering between camaraderie and ennui.
Worth your while? Yes, if you’ve ever looked around your workplace in the middle of a long day and wondered what on earth you were doing there.