Sunday, 3 May 2020

Book #36

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

They spend their days - and too many of their nights - at work. Away from friends and family, they share a stretch of stained carpet with a group of strangers they call colleagues.
There's Chris Yop, clinging to his ergonomic chair; Lynn Mason, the boss, whose breast cancer everyone pretends not to talk about; Carl Garbedian, secretly taking someone else's medication; Marcia Dwyer, whose hair is stuck in the eighties; and Benny, who's just - well, just Benny. Amidst the boredom, redundancies, water cooler moments, meetings, flirtations and pure rage, life is happening, to their great surprise, all around them.
Then We Came to the End is about sitting all morning next to someone you cross the road to avoid at lunch. It's the story of your life and mine.


In Then We Came to the End, Ferris sees all of us corporate office employees, and calls us out on our bullshit. Our constant attempts to look busy, our desperate need for coffee, our unflinching relentlessness when we know there’s a story about a colleague doing the rounds, our congregations around the desks of others, our scattering like pigeons when a senior manager appears. All of it.

And, to ensure we really know he sees us, to make us feel we are part of this band of skivers and misfits, he uses the first person plural. We are involved. We are in this. We are part of the team. In using this type of narrative, Ferris clumps everyone together - in the corporate world, can anyone think for themselves? Or does mass mentality take over?

Around halfway, Ferris shifts into third person to describe the life of one of the office partners - the foreboding Lynn Mason, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This shift changes the style immeasurably, and adds depth and understanding. I was really impressed with the beauty of this section, and it’s profound commentary.

Overall, this is more an exploration of character than something that’s plot-driven. We see everyone’s desires and motivations, everyone’s flaws and setbacks. Ferris closes everything off quite sadly, but still with hope. And I’m pretty certain I work with a lot of people similar to his merry band of mavericks.