Monday, April 02, 2007

Review of "Then We Came To The End" by Joshua Ferris

One of my favorite novels is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Heller is incredibly funny and poignant at the same time in what I thought was a completely original and unreproducible style - until now. If someone had told me that Joshua Ferris had written in Heller's style, I would not have picked up the book. But he catches that hilarious and yet dark spirit and does so with the same quest into the human condition but in a completely different battlezone - cubicle land.

The story follows some wonderful (I'm just gushing with adjectives today) characters in an ad agency through its good times and bad times, all of it a struggle. If you have ever worked in an office, you will be caught up in the descriptions of office chatter and politics, the thoughts and emotions of people spending the heart of their lives together and wondering why.

The following paragraphs from the story give a flavor of the asides that are so Heller-like in their description and yet very true:

We told him to get on with it. We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.
- - - - -
"I don't know," said Joe.

But he did know. He knew just as we knew that she was in surgery that day and would be in recovery when the concepts were due - the difference being that he probably got his information straight from Lynn [the boss], whereas we had to get ours from other sources. We never disliked Joe more than when he had information that we had, too, which he then refused to tell us.

The stories in the book are our stories, and we wonder where our lives are going as we follow the characters to the end. Sometimes our stories are funny, sometimes they are filled with sadness or questions, and they are always filled with tension and struggle.

This book is one of my favorites from the last five years, along with Life of Pi. I'll leave you with one last quote from the book that gives you another picture of the heart of the book:

Just before stepping out of the car, right as she should have been kissing Carl good-bye, Marilynn's cell phone rang. She was an oncologist and always felt obligated to answer the phone in case of emergency. "Hello?" she said. "Go ahead, Susan, I can hear you just fine."

Carl was immediately annoyed. Benny told us that Carl hated the way his wife always reassured people that she could hear them just fine. He hated how she plugged her finger in the opposite ear, effectively shutting out all other noise. And he hated that her other obligations always preempted him. They were just about to say good-bye, for chrissake. Didn't it matter, wasn't it important, their kiss good-bye? The thing he really hated, which he would never admit to her, was how he felt the lesser of the two of them for having no obligation that could compare with hers, which he might use to preempt
her. She had people calling about patients who were dying. Let's face it, there was zero chance one of us would call Carl with a question of mortal urgency. Whatever question we might have for Carl, it could wait until we ran into him in the hall the next day. That made Carl feel that his wife's job was more meaningful than his own; and, because of his particular way of thinking at the time, that she was therefore more meaningful. Carl's thoughts were dark, man. It didn't make for an easy marriage. If only you heard the fragments of phone conversations we sometimes overheard when passing Carl's office.

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