Sunday, July 19, 2009

Joshua Ferris's Then We Came To The End, Part I

I found this book Friday at Barnes & Noble. I can't decide, so far, how much I like it.

The set-up is completely unique: Ferris writes as "we," rather than in the third-person or as "I." The "we" is the employees of a Chicago ad agency who tell the story of their lives in the workplace -- mainly by way of observations about each other. For instance:
"How we hated our coffee mugs! our mouse pads, our desk clocks, our daily calendars, the contents of our desk drawers ... Marcia Dwyer's hair was stuck in the eighties. She listened to terrible music, bands we had had outgrown in the eleventh grade. Some of us had never even heard of the music she listened to, and it was inconceivable that she could enjoy such noice."
This is an extremely clever form for a novel, and once I started reading I immediately wondered if there are other authors who have used it (incidentally, Ferris quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson at the start of the book regarding the importance of the collective). However, so far the story is just a bunch of workplace anecdotes and I've yet to discern any new themes or perspectives. Instead, I keep being reminded of either/or "Office Space" and "The Office," whereas I expected this book to offer a different take on life at work.

I'm wondering if I'll start to get more out of the book as the characters are developed more fully. One character, Tom Mota, is extremely disenchanted with his job (and his life in general) -- he's a bit of a misanthrope, but he's the one so far who I'm actually finding the most interesting in terms of the changing ways in which the others perceive him.
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I've just looked up Joshua Ferris. He was born in 1974 and went to the University of Iowa. "Then We Came To The End" was published in 2007.

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