Sunday, August 4, 2013

Feels Like Work

Then We Came to the End
by Joshua Ferris
Published by Little, Brown and Company
2 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

In fairness, this book is more of a 2 1/2 star, but given the tyrannical nature of the star system I am forced to go with a 2. Typically, this is the type of book I like--sarcastic, cynical, and funny. I really enjoyed the first half of it, but then got bogged down by the halfway point. I've worked in an office scenario like this and easily recognized the stereotypes depicted by Ferris (part of the fun in the beginning was recognizing and assigning real life names to the characters, "Oh my God, that is totally Bubba!"--obviously names have been changed here to make sure I don't get my butt kicked by a former colleague). Part of the problem is that Ferris is so good at describing the minutiae of day-to-day life in an office--the petty bickering, the fight for the best office supplies, the gossiping that takes precedence over work--that I eventually began to feel like I was going to work every time I picked up the book. 

This is not a bad book and it certainly has its merits. Ferris uses a peculiar point of view throughout the book that I have heard others complain about, but I found it to be one of the strong points. The book is told from the "we" perspective, as though such is the mediocrity of their carbon copy lives that the mindless office drones can no longer think for themselves and instead think as a collective. As the book goes on, we begin to see individual characters emerge--usually as they are laid off from their jobs and, thus, their individuality is returned to them. In some cases, the individual character is someone who has become the poster child for a particular office stereotype and is granted an individual name based upon the collective's view of this person as "different" in some way: the person who is always last to know, the person who is always the first to know, the storyteller, the noncomformist, the perfectionist, the couple engaged in the interoffice affair. Also compelling is the stand alone chapter we get from the perspective of Lynn, the boss who is diagnosed with breast cancer and who struggles with keeping her private life and fears separate from the office. 

As a whole, this was a clever conceit that would have done well as a novella, but it was wearing pretty thin by the 385 page mark. Watch Office Space--it does it better. 

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