Modern America is infested with a sort of antipathy for corporate culture that at once yearns for its familiarity and its benefits but viciously scorns its monotony and its dreariness. How can something so sought-after be also so loathed? Recently, perhaps it has much to do with the the shrinking availability of such jobs: new technology, outsourcing, and the vagaries of the marketing plays Russian roulette with jobs.
Joshua Ferris’ brand new novel (it’s been out less than a month, as of this writing), Then We Came to the End is a complex affair that seeks the capture the nuance of the much-sought “office job” at the economic downturn of the early 21st century. It’s a blend of Dilbert‘s facile corporate humour in a narrative context which begins simply and unfolds, by means of chronologically-scattered stories told through a protean narrator of “we”—we the gossiping masses whose makeup changes depending on the subject of the anecdote, who is excluded its viewing—, into a deeply personal work.
Ferris really does an excellent job of weaving a rich and colorful tale from what seems an endless string of the mundane tasks and concerns which occupy corporate life—mundane, that is, until suddenly they aren’t and the issue is mortality, meaning (or lack thereof), and pressing concerns of office violence. This is Ferris’ first novel (he’s formerly a marketer, I believe), and I’m very impressed that he’s been able to create a work of such obvious quality and nuance. I could pull from it all sorts of things which aren’t really appropriate fodder for a vanilla review, but needless to say, there’s much meaning to be teased from these pages.
It’s my sincere hope that the author won’t be a one-trick pony: having minted this meisterwerk drawn from his own experiences in corporate purgatory, where does he turn next? The warming (to the reader) of the gelid boss, Lynn, and her eventual demise; the making and breaking of office romances; the life lessons to be discerned from the relative merits of corporate evacuation v. corporate nesting: all these things are part of Ferris’ fluorescent soap opera, capturing a wide swath of both narrative subject and philosophical point. I don’t at all doubt his ability to write about the office, but can he do it again with as much poignancy and as much success? Who knows.
Regardless, Then We Came to the End is a rolicking novel, and recommended to just about anyone: it’s a wonderful blend of humor, drama, and rhetorical curiosity to satisfy even the most demanding of readers.