Tuesday, December 02, 2008

We Too Shall Come To The End

It's been what, 6 months? Longer?

I finally finished Then We Came To The End last night, Joshua Ferris' funny and much praised book on office life and lives.

The setting is a Chicago ad agency filled with cubicles of overthinking copywriters (What's another word for "now"?) and overwrought designers (Do you like this font? Or this font? Does this kerning look weird?).

Anyone who's worked with creative people who agonize over word choice and white space and logo design will find the office Ferris describes to be hilariously (uncomfortably even?) familiar. Yet he speaks to the heart of every cubicle dweller with lines like, "Our mornings lacked promise."

But I didn't find Then We Came To The End to be a funny book overall. It is sharp in observations and entertaining one-liners. And Ferris is spot-on with office politics, pettiness and jealously, but he also captures the community, friendship and companionship that those who are lucky find at work.

I had hard time getting in to it in part because there are so many characters, few of whom I cared enough about to keep track of. There are a few bright spots - such as the crazy who sends emails quoting Walt Whitman and later causes such pandemonium after being fired I couldn't stop myself from laughing. And there is the unhappy husband of a doctor who can't find his footing. While his wife is saving lives and making an impact he's charged with figuring out what makes people want to buy crap they don't need. (I somehow related to this guy.)

Overall though, I didn't connect with the characters. It's Ferris' writing that makes the book standout, not so much the story.

I did enjoy the ending a lot, and after I read the last line I felt my breath suspend for a seconds as I took in.

A year or so after they all leave the place they found so miserable (and that many got "layed-off" from) they meet at a bar to catch up and find out what happened to everyone. Those people who seemed so insufferable now seem so... agreeable, likable even.

This is what I remember about office life in the places I've worked. The shelter you find in the handful of folks you forge friendships with, and the times you share with those people, commiserating in hallways and bonding at happy hours over your collective "misery."

I'm lucky to have made some lasting friendships at the places I've worked. And it's always entertaining to reminisce on those days when we shared cubicles and printers and florescent lights. But it's also a bit melancholy. It's like being reminded of time's savage passing, who you were then, who they are now, has it really been that long, where are you going from here? I always have this rose-colored nostalgia for things.

As the title says, we come to the end. Then when we do we miss what we had and the misery of that time seems... not so miserable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OH! I'm soooo bummed you didn't like this more. I found it both hilarious and heartbreaking. The characters weren't all that likeable but, man oh man, did they ever remind me of real people I've worked with over the years.
Amy P