Thursday, February 7, 2008

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

In all honesty, I was not expecting much from this book, regardless of the fact that it was on many "Best Books of 2007" lists. The subject matter just did not seem especially interesting to me. I was, however, pleasantly surprised.
The story takes place in 2001, in a Chicago advertising agency, one that is going steadily downhill. It is told in first-person voice, but not by any one particular character. Rather, the story is told from a collective "we" or "us" voice. The reader is thus made part of the group that is experiencing the downsizing of their company. The various characters created are all very realistic, and easy to identify from real-life experiences. The office environment is also recognizable to anyone who has ever had to work in a cubicle, whether or not you worked for an ad agency. As the layoffs increase, the office tension noticeably increases along with it. Those that are laid-off behave erratically, and office gossip centers on what they might do, or who will be next to follow them.
Although this story could seem tragic, it is told in a humorous voice. The firings themselves are difficult for the characters to deal with, but they all seem to have very personal tragedies in their lives as well. This trials are fodder for the office gossip mill, but there is sympathy for the individual characters as well. While the book is very funny, it is also a real look at office relationships, both the superficiality and depth that can occur in the confines of the cubicles.

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