Thursday, December 27, 2007

Then We Came to the End

Then We Came to the End (2007) by Joshua Ferris is, for the most part, written in first-person plural (that's "we" if it's been a while since your last English class), and it's a really impressive piece of literature. He just wrote the HELL out of that book.

The story is about a group of people in an ad department in Chicago, whose office is going through the dreaded rolling layoffs of the late nineties. I went through those same layoffs in San Francisco so the book struck a particular chord with me. The images of people trying to "look busy", of scrambling to put down their coworkers in front of the boss, was so accurate. The threat of job loss is so terrifying to some that the idea takes over their lives. It's kind of bizarre to think that in the corporate office environment, the supposed bastion of professionalism and civilization, that the worst comes out in people, but experiencing those layoffs myself was something akin to personal torture.

As everyone knows, we spend most of our waking lives at work - so it's no surprise that our work families dominate our lives just as much as the families we choose. Ferris's characters' relationships are just as complex as any familial bond - sometimes sharing, sometimes hiding their secrets, illnesses, shames, misdeeds and triumphs.

What I found unfaltering fascinating about Ferris's (first) book was that he managed to write from this quite unusual point of view and still maintain a very warm, inclusive narrative. In The Virgin Suicides, also first-person plural, the narrative voice is so distant, you never have a feel for who the unknown neighbor boys are. Ferris, conversely, pulls the reader into the story, including them in the events.

3 comments:

Kathy said...

Thanks for this review---I'm very interested in reading this book. I'm pretty intrigued by the use of first-person plural narrative voices and the varying impacts it can have. I'll definitely be checking this out.

Special K said...

cool - let me know what you think when you read it! I did a little research and found a few other books in first-person plural - the VS, of course, and Ayn Rand's Anthem, Faulkner's A Rose for Emily, something called During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, by Joan Chase (which I've never heard of. Essentially most Greek plays (because of the chorus), and sort of Margaret Atwood's The Tent (the chorus).

Kathy said...

Please don't make me read Ayn Rand! I'll put the Atwood title on my list, though!