Sunday, June 29, 2008

Then We Came to the End

I have been very slow to finish a book lately. Blame it on having a social life and just being tired at night to sit down and pick up my book. I had heard many great reviews about Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, so I was looking forward to reading it. After I was done I was left with an “Eh” feeling about the book. It wasn’t a bad book; it just didn’t live up to all the hype.

Besides the great reviews this novel got, I also picked up this book because the main story was focused around office life. In our work driven society, we spend the majority of our lives at our jobs, grinding all day. I knew I would be able to relate.

The story is set around an advertising firm in Chicago that is going through layoffs. The employees are always at alert and nervous over whose going to be next to “Walk Spanish Down the Hall.” Obviously no one wants to be next and the employees spend mass amounts of time deliberating and gossiping about one another. Its no wonder the company is going through layoff, no one does any really work.

Ferris decides to tell the story in first person plural, the narrative “we.” As he puts it,

Companies tend to refer to themselves in the first-person plural – in annual reports, corporate brochures, within meetings and internal memos, and, in particular in advertising. What used to be the “royal we” might now be thought of as the “corporate we.” 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.”

Every company that I have ever worked for the Big Boss Person always refers to the underlings and themselves as “we”; We had a stellar quarter” or “Although we accrued some financial losses, we will recover” and so on and so forth. I think it was a brilliant idea to write it this way and truly pulls the reader in and makes them feels like their an employee within the organization.

The story can be confusing because its jumps from one person’s story to the next and you can never tell whether an event happened in the present or the past. One minute someone has been layed off, and the next paragraph the narrator is telling a story about that person from last week. It can be hard to follow.

I believe Ferris does a great job of capturing an office’s dynamic between all the petty bullshit, mundane tasks, and the real camaraderie that co-workers feel towards each other. I can honestly say that some of my best friendships have started through my job. I have met and worked with a lot of amazing people and have developed wonderful friendships with them. Working with people creates a unique bond and I have kept in touch with a lot of my past co-workers.

This book also reminds me that work isn’t everything or it shouldn’t be. Its good to have a nice balance between work and play; on your deathbed you don’t want to assess your life and realize that all you’ve done is work and you never got a chance to truly live.