Then We Came To The End: A Novel

Paperback | February 26, 2008

byJoshua Ferris

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No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.
With a demon's eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life's strangest environment--the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

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No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in ...

Joshua Ferris's first novel,Then We Came to the End, won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, and was a National Book Award finalist. It has been translated into 24 languages. His fiction has appeared inThe New Yorker,Granta, Best New American Voices, New Stories from the South,Prairie Schooner, andThe Iowa Rev...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.25 inPublished:February 26, 2008Publisher:Little, Brown And CompanyLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:031601639X

ISBN - 13:9780316016391

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Laughter in the time of America's Downfall Then We Came to the End, the 2007 debut novel by Joshua Ferris, is not a fictional version of Office Space or TV’s The Office. Although it has some very funny, very satirical moments, Then We Came to the End is about much more than “cubicle culture” and laugh-a-minute gossip slurped up by the sound of the water cooler. This novel tackles subjects as intimate as relationships and as large as loneliness and the meaningful life. On the political level, no less than the meaning of America and what it has become, or is becoming, is the theme of Ferris’s work. The novel is told from the first-person collective narrative point of view and looks at a Chicago advertising firm following the dot-com bust in the economy. The cast of characters is quirky, heartbreaking, mad, pathetic, tragic and, yes, there are aspiring writers among them – much like the people you see in your own personal office space. Client business falls, employees are laid off, doom and gloom pervades the place. But there is something else going on here, something more than the boom-and-bust cycles that naturally occur in the business world. We get a sense of what’s happening early in the novel when the narrator describes how his firm’s clients pay big money to have the agency “sit around and bullshit, expenses they then passed on to you, the consumer. It was the cost of doing business, but some of us feared it was an indication that the end was near, like the profligacy that preceded the downfall of the Roman Empire.” That little bit of empire foreshadowing is echoed near the end of the novel in the words of Tom Mota, the unhinged former worker. Janine recalls him writing in a letter that America is “the best republic that ever began to fade.” That is the nub of this hard truth of a book. The characters in this tale are living the last days of the downfall of a republic, and they’re working in an industry that creates need out of nothing, want out of thin air. Or, as Ferris writes through his narrator, “A good deal of our self-esteem was predicated on the belief that we were good marketers, that we understood what made the world tick – that in fact, we told the world how to tick. We got it, we got it better than others, we got it so well we could teach it to them. Using a wide variety of media, we could demonstrate for our fellow Americans their anxieties, desires, insufficiencies, and frustrations – and how to assuage them all. We informed you in six seconds that you needed something you didn’t know you lacked. We made you want anything that anyone willing to pay us wanted you to want. We were hired guns of the human soul. We pulled the strings on the people across the land and by god they got to their feet and they danced for us.” And yet, there is the voice of Emerson that is so pervasive. Mota quotes the great American philosopher and writer several times and it is his point that “all men have sublime thoughts” that carries the humanity of this novel. Each of these characters has a story to tell, even Lynn Mason, the boss and agency partner, who may or may not have cancer. She appears to be the typical boss, driven by work and nothing else, but we learn through Hank Neary that she has another side. Much like the crazy cast that makes up the Catch-22 gang, these characters get involved in all kinds of funny antics. You laugh along at so many things, such as the term they coin -- “polishing the turd” -- for jobs that are endlessly watered down by impossible clients. Working in such an industry, a reader can appreciate this kind of compromise, something the comic Dave Barry once branded as “the client from Hell.” But like Joseph Heller’s classic wartime novel, you also come to appreciate the wisdom and truth of so much of what these characters go through, and of what Ferris is trying to say. It comes through near the end when most of the characters get together again at a poetry reading of Neary’s – and here, I could not help but snicker at the obvious reference to the character Al Neri of The Godfather, which is also quoted at length in the book – when we learn of the fates (good and bad) of the group. Then We Came to the End ends, much like The Great Gatsby’s “boats against the tide,” with an uplifting and poetic denouement in which that first-person collective narrator closes the circle to embrace the reader. The gang, after Neary’s reading, were all sitting around, reminiscing and catching up and having drinks when the end finally comes. “We kept hanging on, waiting for them to send over the big guy who’d force us out with a final command. And we would leave, eventually. Out to the parking lot, a few parting words. ‘Sure was good to see you again,’ we’d say. And with that, we’d get in our cars and open the windows and drive off, tapping the horn a final time. But for the moment, it was nice just to sit there together. We were the only two left. Just the two of us, you and me.”
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Painfully funny I've worked in agencies so long, I figured this book would offer a harmless guffaw -- a 'yup, that's what it's like' kind of laugh. I wasn't entirely prepared for the fact that, while this book is indeed hilarious, it also made me want to crawl into bed and never go to work (at an agency) again. The .com bubble and burst era is still a pretty gut-wrenching memory and the descriptions of trickled lay-offs and being 'walked spanish down the hall' brings that seeping anxiety right back. So do the many tracts that question the ethics and lack of greater purpose behind the BDA priorities. I loved the book. Just be prepared, you agency-creatures, for the unfunny side of self-recognition.
Date published: 2008-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Uncanny This novel repeatedly generates flashes of uncanny description for the doldrums of office life, universal to all residents of the cube farm, even inside the completely unmatched worklife of advertising creatives. Ferris' style feels like mental floss, but hids much substance. Read this book and discover all the people you know who are forced to live a life as an office worker. You'll see characters you haven't seen since high school, since unversity. You'll find Tom Mota and learn to love and hate him.
Date published: 2008-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A perfect description of the inside of the tech bubble, while it inflated and when it burst Then We Came to the End is told in first person plural (“We were fractious and overpaid…We loved free bagels in the morning”) giving it a feel somewhere between water-cooler gossip and the chants of a Greek chorus. This novel is a dead-on description working in corporate America during the boom of Y2K and the subsequent burst of the tech bubble. Ferris captures the delight in the silliness of wasting time at white-collar jobs (playing celebrity death watch and sneaking to Starbucks) but also the boredom of it (feigning work so you don’t look expendable to your employers while wondering if you should instead be saving the world at an NGO.) The setting is original, the style unusual, but not at all cumbersome, and, though the characters may seem hard to keep track of at first, they are engaging. This is a very enjoyable read.
Date published: 2008-03-27

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Editorial Reviews

"Not too many authors have written the Great American Office Novel. Joseph Heller did it in Something Happened (the one book of his to rival Catch-22). And Nicholson Baker pulled it off in zanily fastidious fashion in The Mezzanine. To their ranks should be added Joshua Ferris, whose THEN WE CAME TO THE END feels like a readymade classic of the genre. . . . A truly affecting novel about work, trust, love, and loneliness."-Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times